Grace is the daughter of Dr. Francene Lemoine, associate professor of biological sciences at Northwestern State, and her husband Dean. Grace was born Dec. 6, 2002, at 25 weeks gestation. Dr. Lemoine explained that investigators followed Grace from birth to age two and recently received a grant for a follow-up study of the same cohort of children.
“There haven’t been many babies with birth weight as low as Grace’s, so we thought it was important to participate,” Lemoine said. “This will be an evaluation with child psychologists to find out from an academic and behavioral standpoint how these low birth weight babies are doing in middle childhood.”
In February, the Lemoine family will travel to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill where Grace was born for the evaluation. Dr. and Mr. Lemoine will participate in a parental evaluation, as researchers examine how preterm babies affect parents and families.
“Preemies are the largest class of abused children because of medical or developmental challenges,” Lemoine said. She previously completed questionnaires that addressed how having a preemie affects daily life, how much work was missed and other ways a family could be affected, as well as how parents manage stress levels. Grace’s teachers at NSU E-Lab will also receive an evaluation packet.
The Lemoines moved to Chapel Hill in the summer of 2002 where Dr. Lemoine was participating in a post-doctoral fellowship at NC-Chapel Hill. Her due date was in March 2003. That December, Lemoine developed severe preeclampsia and was hospitalized for two days before a Caesarean section was performed. Grace was born at UNC-Chapel Hill Women’s and Children’s hospital and remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit there for the first 129 days of her life, leaving the hospital April 14, 2003.
“Grace weighed 510 grams or one pound one ounce,” said Lemoine, who specified the weight in grams because the hospital’s policy is to resuscitate infants 500 grams and larger. “She was one third of one ounce larger than the cut-off.”
Before Lemoine’s C-section, a fellow from the NICU spoke to her about the study. During Grace’s early care, researchers analyzed antibody levels and chemical levels in her blood and performed a head ultrasound. Researchers documented developmental progress during Grace’s first two years.
“They seem to be looking for a connection between prematurity and autism,” Lemoine said. “We’re fortunate that Grace hasn’t shown any evidence of that.”
Today, Grace is a social, chatty child who is developmentally on track with other children her age. She was the local/regional ambassador for the March of Dimes March for Babies two years in a row.
Participation in the study is important to the Lemoines from the aspect of acquiring knowledge that can help others.
“The important thing is to try to get a better understanding of what can be expected. Knowledge is power. Anything that Grace’s positive outcome can do to increase positive outcomes for others is important. There are not many children born as early and as small as Grace that don’t have issues and we’re fortunate. If they can learn how or what circumstances can help others, we’re happy to be involved.”