If someone would have asked me three years ago what Necrotizing enterocolitis (or NEC for short) meant, then my response would probably be a blank stare, followed by I'll have to get back to you on that. That's often the reply I give to people when I'm not sure of an answer.
But if someone were to ask me today what NEC means, the answer would probably be a bit different. I think the first thing I'd say is, "Well how much time do you have for me to answer that question honestly?" For simplicity's sake, we can just say that it is a condition often seen in premature infants where portions of the bowel undergo necrosis or tissue death. It impacts about 10% of infants born at under 29 weeks, and about a third will die.
My family found out first hand what this disease is when it claimed the life of my 3-week-old son, Aaron. Now, there's not a day that goes by when I don't think about my son or the disease and how it changed the life of my family.
Last month, however, I stumbled across some interesting research that might give other parents who have premature infants a chance to diagnose and catch the disease before it can do much harm. Researchers have discovered that abnormal gut bacteria in premature babies can be found days before the onset of NEC according to a study in BioMed Central's open access journal Microbiome. The research also shows that babies who later went on to develop NEC had a lower diversity of gut bacteria 4-9 days after birth, increased level of Firmicutes or Enterobacteriaceae, and lacked the Propionibacterium found in healthy babies. In other words, this could eventually turn out to be a strong predictor of NEC. But it's still in the initial phases.
I put this in MDD's special section Diagnostics Extra, nearly two weeks ago. I'm going to be honest with you, it was perhaps one of the hardest things that I've ever done. At some point I selfishly asked myself why couldn't they have had something like this for Aaron - why couldn't this research be fully realized and used. But, then I realized that the news needs to get out and that there needs to be some strong awareness regarding the disease.
I thought it only fitting that perhaps - I write about this now, to not only get the awareness out about this research, but also to give my son a voice, who - if he survived - would turn 3-years-old on Monday.