Washington State Investigating Birth Defects

<p>Olivia Jackman</p>

Olivia Jackman

Andrea Jackman plays with her nearly 6 month old daughter, Olivia.

Olivia was born with a neural tube defect, spina bifida -- her spinal cord failed to form properly.

"It was scary," said Jackman, "I didn't expect anything to be wrong with her."

Olivia is one of 27 different cases the Washington State Department of Health says has affected Yakima, Benton and Franklin Counties from 2010 to 2013 -- 23 of those are cases of anencephaly, where the child is born missing a large portion of their brain.

That rate is out of 27,000 births in the area, a rate of 8.4 per 10,000 births -- higher than the national average of 2.1

Jackman says doctors initially told her Olivia would live out her life in wheelchair.

"We were also worried that she could have some mental delays that could go along with that," said Jackman, "It made me mad that I -- maybe if somebody had told me, I could have done something about it."

Unfortunately there isn't much future mothers can do.

Health experts are stumped and don't know what exactly causes neural tube birth defects -- the investigation is still in it's early stages, however, genetic counselors say there shouldn't be cause for alarm -- birth defects tend to occur in clusters over periods of time.

"You really need to take a long-term view," said genetic counselor, Dr. Susie Ball, "Even if there had been more the last 6 months, it doesn't necessarily mean there have been too many if you were to look over the last several years."

Health experts do reccommend women take folic acid if they plan on getting pregnant, it can be found in most vegetables or taken as a supplement, and may help in reduciing chances for a birth defect.

"If you are going to plan your pregnancy, you go 'oh, I'm going to get pregnant in the next six months,' you would start taking your prenatal vitamins or your one a day kind of vitamins now," said Dr. Ball.

Jackman says Olivia is showing signs of a healthy body, she may not require any help with learning how to walk.

However, Jackman admits much of the hardship may have been prevented, had she known from the beginning.  

"I know that when i found out I was pregnant, it was about a month," said Jackman, "By then it was too late, her spina bifida had been formed."