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Kennedy family tragedy helped premature-birth research

Updated: Monday, November 25 2013, 09:54 PM MST
Kennedy family tragedy helped premature-birth research story image

By: John Purvis
EL PASO, Texas -- Just over three months before his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy's family endured another tragedy.

This one involved the birth of his third child, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who was born five and a half weeks prematurely on Aug. 7, 1963, and died 39 hours later.

Because he was the first baby born to a president in office since the 19th century, the nation was riveted by Jacqueline Kennedy's pregnancy and the birth of Patrick.

And as they would just months later when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, many Americans mourned the loss of his newborn son, Patrick.

The baby's death also brought to light shortcomings in the medical care provided to premature babies and the nation's lack of knowledge about how to help them. That helped spur a great deal of interest in, and increased funding for, research into caring for babies born prematurely.

It even led to the birth of a whole new medical profession, known as neonatology. In addition, there was no such thing as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when Patrick Kennedy was born in 1963.

Now there are more than 1,500 of them across the country, including here at El Paso Children's Hospital. And if Patrick Kennedy were born today, five and a half weeks prematurely, doctors say his chances for survival would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 98 percent.

That's why I chose to do a special assignment about the other Kennedy family tragedy in 1963. It's been largely forgotten, in the wake of President Kennedy's assassination only a short time later. Yet that tragedy has had a profound impact on the health care provided to premature babies, and led to medical breakthroughs that are now saving thousands of lives every year.

Kennedy family tragedy helped premature-birth research
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