TENNESSEE (WVLT) - The state of Tennessee received a failing grade from the March of Dimes in what will be an annual Premature Birth Report Card.
The "F" grade shows how the state is facing a crisis level of premature births that is driving up health care costs and special education budgets.
Felicia Rioza is one of many mothers dealing with the crisis. "The nurses were upfront, they said do not expect him here in 3 hours. He's not supposed to make it."
That's the last thing Felicia Rioza remembers before doctors delivered her baby boy, almost 3 and 1/2 months early.
Weighing only 1 pound, 3 ounces, Tristen had several problems including a hole in his heart, an un-formed colon and blindness. But with the bad news, Felicia also was given some good. "He had really good lungs because of the steroids, wasn't on a ventilator, usually on it about a month, so he done real good."
After 48 hours, Felicia could finally see her son, but says she was afraid to touch him. "You could see straight through him, all his veins, his stomach, his heart moving. He was very transparent. You could see all his ribs, his face bone, it was awful."
Tristen is one of several babies born premature across Tennessee.
A brand new report released by the March of Dimes says in the state, 14 out of every 100 babies born are premature, giving Tennessee a grade of "F".
March of Dimes Executive Director Valerie Parsley says "this is a wake up call to the seriousness and the crisis that we have of premature births in our community."
The March of Dimes along with hospitals like UT Medical Center hope to reduce premature births through education, awareness and clinical health.
Dr. Mark Gaylord is a Neonatologist at UT Medical Center and says there is something doctors and patients can do. "The most preventable thing that you can do to help stop this is get prenatal care, regular and early and stop smoking during pregnancy."
Felicia's fear of holding her son subsided and now she holds him as often as possible. "He's just a miracle. Not supposed to be here, but he is, so obviously, there's a reason for both of us to be here." She hopes to take him home this weekend.
The March of Dimes report shows the United States rated at a "D" level, with not a single state earning an "A".
The only state to earn a "B" was Vermont.
Annually, the costs to the country associated with premature birth is nearly $26 billion.
To get more information on the report and information on prematurity awareness, click on the link below.
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