Downey mother and daughter reflect on FAS Awareness Day

DOWNEY - April 21, 1993 is undoubtedly one of the happiest days of Pam Lane's life.On that day Lane adopted her daughter, Erinna. "I adopted her from the Ukraine when she was 3-years-old," said Lane who traveled across the globe to bring Erinna home. Howbeit, Lane would soon realize that her daughter was special in more ways than one. After a string of behavioral problems and developmental setbacks, Lane began to research the symptoms and discovered that her daughter had a disorder very common among adopted children: fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). "FAS is brain damage caused to the fetus because a mother dinks while pregnant," said Lane, 58. "There are 0.5-2 cases per 1000 live births, but a lot of people are not aware. It's underreported, and a lot of parents avoid the subject because of the stigma, but it's prevalent among foster, adopted kids." Lane, a longtime Downey resident, never thought she would serve as an advocate for people with FAS, but after learning more about the condition, it didn't take her long to assume the role. Today, on the eve of FAS Awareness Day, Lane and Erinna are encouraging local women to do all they can to prevent FAS by remembering to not drink while pregnant. Twenty one-year-old Erinna Lane knows what it's like to live with the consequences. "Talking about this makes me very emotional, I feel like I'm the only one with this," Erinna said solemnly. "You feel like you don't belong here. "My emotions change from second to second. One moment I'm happy, then angry or depressed. I don't like being like that. I don't like being someone who's got an emotional problem. You get treated differently." Pam acknowledged that FAS not only carries a challenge for Erinna, but for her as well. "I have to remember that she's not acting this way to be disrespectful, she has FAS...and they don't learn from experience and don't understand consequences," she said. "We've gone through so many pairs of glasses, now its cell phones," Pam said with a smile. Although Erinna takes medication to help with her temperament and ease the mood swings, the effects of FAS remain incurable. Several medical tests reveal that Erinna has a low IQ and mental disability, but Pam Lane said her daughter functions at a higher capacity than many others with FAS. "So we don't qualify for medical support," she said. "FAS is not listed as a mental health problem. FAS does affect IQ, but just 16% of people with FAS are mentally retarded." As a result, Erinna was rejected three times for supplemental federal benefits, before a judge granted her the services through an appeal process. Pam was only able to file for medical services if she could show that Erinna suffers from the same issues as others with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Currently, Pam is hoping to request regional benefits for her daughter, but FAS is not listed as one of the acceptable developmental disabilities. Pam maintains those services would teach Erinna about assisted living options, provide a job coach, and help with finances. "People need support of government services," she said. "We need to change the system and make those services available." Nonetheless, despite her challenges, Erinna continues to see the positives in life. "I'm adopted - God saved me," she said. "Me and my mom have a strong love for each other. She always tells me 'I love you from my heart to heaven.'" "She's one of the most loving kids I know," Pam added. "She's very sensitive to people hurting and concerned. She's my friend for life." The first FAS Awareness Day was celebrated on September 9, 1999. The day was chosen so that on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, the world would remember the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from alcohol. "Prevention is the important thing," said Lane. "You can prevent this…FAS is the only 100% preventable birth defect so we're speaking out to women. Do not drink while you're pregnant, it can damage your baby."

********** Published: September 08, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 21