The Power of Touch


A Mother and Her Son: Surviving the Withdrawal

Written by Michaella Marshall, Audio edited by Alessandra Rey

Austin, Texas-

For 20-year-old Tonya Lucas, March 31, 2014, was set to be the most exciting day of her life. The day she welcomed her son Dashal into the world.

After hearing that a local woman suffering from a methadone addiction did not want to keep her unborn baby, Lucas and her husband made the decision to adopt the child.

What she did not know, was that Dashal’s biological mother was addicted to heroin.

“We were told that his biological mother was on methadone, which was a lie, and not heroin.” Lucas said.

Lucas said that although she was prepared for her son to face opioid withdrawals, she was not prepared for weeks spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, watching her son rid himself of the toxic heroin that was poisoning his body.

Infant opioid-addiction, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome affects babies by causing severe body tremors, diaper rashes due to unstoppable diarrhea, and frequent high-pitched screaming. High muscle tone is prevalent due to constant tensing from exposure to the drug. Lucas saw similar symptoms in her son.

“We pretty much just googled things,” said Lucas, “spoke with the CYFD about other children who have been through withdrawals before. but most of our knowledge came from the amazing NICU nurses.”

Nurses used morphine to help reduce the pain, but once again became an addiction. Sugar water was used to try to soothe him, but to little avail.

Two months passed, Dashal stayed in Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque New Mexico.  He made little improvement.

With Lucas and her husband working opposite schedules, and spending weekends in the hospital, there seemed to be little hope for the family.

Amid gaps in her schedule, Lucas would come to the hospital to see women holding her sleeping baby. Close to their chest and swaddled tightly, as it was the only way Dashal could sleep.

She credits these cuddlers in helping Dashal to heal faster.

“I feel those women needed the babies as much as the babies needed them,” Lucas said.

The cuddlers provided love that the busy nurses could not.

Cuddling programs are beginning to pop up around the United States due to recent research suggesting close contact can help improve these infants health. Volunteers in hospitals across the nation are spending time with babies who are battling opioid-dependency.

Mary Anthony, from San Antonio, has been a volunteer with opioid-dependent infants for over a year at Methodist Children’s Hospital. She has put in over 200 hours of volunteer work.

“These babies are handed a rough start to life, but with good care and lots of loving cuddles they can overcome,” Anthony said.

She said that working with these infants is very different than working with typically developing babies as they are often sensitive to light, noise and other sensory stimulants.

One-third of all drug dependent babies born in Texas are from San Antonio. In Bexar County alone, 400 babies were born suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome last year, according to the Texas department of State Health Services.

Two months later, after pain, roadblocks, and further treatments, Dashal was released from hospital and finally made it home.

Dashal is now thriving, but his life will continue to be different than other children’s.

Lucas said that he has hit every milestone that a normal child does and has even excelled in some such as walking, due to his high muscle tone.

“He can count to twenty, knows all of his colors, and his ABC’s,” Lucas said.

Due to his previous condition, Dashal has hyperactivity, aggressive issues, and communication issues, but early intervention is helping to keep him on the right track.

On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, Dashal will be interviewing to start preschool, a huge step for a child who was dealt the worse hand.

Lucas and Dashal said they are extremely excited for the future, and want to inspire others affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome to have hope.

“You are enough,” Lucas said. “The stress and frustration can get overwhelming, but know that it is not your child giving you problems, it’s that he has problems of his own.”


Opioid-Dependent Infants Statistics

Graphics and text by Bella Tommey

 

Graph

 

In Texas, the average cost of a hospital birth for a typical developing newborn is $3,469 according to the state health department. The average cost for a baby suffering from neonatal abstinence syndromeis $31,321 per birth.

SymptomsInfant opioid-addiction, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome affects babies by causing severe body tremors, diaper rashes, diarrhea, feeding difficulties, sleeping problems, seizures, and frequent high-pitched screaming to name a few. Behavior issues and sensory issues often follow into adolescence.

State Map

One-third of all drug dependent babies born in Texas are from San Antonio. In Bexar County alone, 400 babies were born suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome last year, according to the Texas department of State Health Services.


Dr. Wendy Penner

Audio and text by Alessandra Rey

Dr. Wendy Penner is the director of prevention and wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams, Massachusetts. She received her PhD in Psychology at the University of Michigan and has since opened up her own consulting firm. She is actively engaged now on both the treatment and policy side of opioids and opioid addiction as well as focuses on promoting behavioral health and development to those who seek her counsel.


Phoenix House- Austin, Texas

Photos and text by Michaella Marshall, video by Sydney Rubin

Phoenix House is a recovery center that focuses on teens recovering from addiction. Phoenix House has locations in Austin, Round Rock, Houston, and Dallas. Although opioid addiction is a more predominant issues in the New England states, there is a country wide increase of opioid usage. Phoenix House, Austin has had it’s own share of children who were born addicted to opioid and now are facing new addictions, and with teens who are addicted and are now pregnant. Phoenix House is a recovery center that focuses on teens recovering from addiction. Phoenix House has locations in Austin, Round Rock, Houston, and Dallas. Although opioid addiction is a more predominant issues in the New England states, there is a country wide increase of opioid usage. Phoenix House, Austin has had it’s own share of children who were born addicted to opioid and now are facing new addictions, and with teens who are addicted and are now pregnant.

 

 

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