Marshall infant mortality rate highest in state

Friday, December 19, 2008
Marshall County's infant-mortality rate is more than three times the national average.

It's been almost eight months since Drayke Alan Crom was born. And he appears to be winning his fight against becoming just another infant mortality statistic.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that Marshall County has the highest rate of infant mortality in Tennessee, according to the most recent 2006 figures.

Tennessee's infant mortality rate is among the highest in the nation, as reported this week by the daily paper in Nashville. That publication reported Marshall County residents registered the birth of 402 babies in the calendar year 2006, and nine of them didn't live to celebrate their first birthday.

That works out to 22.4 deaths per 1,000 births. It's a rate more than three times the national average (6.3) and worse than Nicaragua or Tunisia, according to the 2006 revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects report.

More statistics are coming early next year. Infant mortality statistics are figured by the number of babies who don't live to see their first birthday.

About Drayke

Drayke was born 12 weeks premature on April 28, weighing 1 pound, 4.7 ounces and measuring 13 inches long. Since birth, he's been in a neonatal intensive care unit - first at Centennial Medical Center and now at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"He's the oldest baby in the NICU right now," says his mother, Lorrie King, 45.

However, she's heard of babies who stayed there for a year or more.

King has spent a lot of time staying at the Ronald McDonald House, which, among other services, provides a home away from home for families of critically ill children at Nashville hospitals.

Most of the people at the house are there because of premature babies, King says.

She doesn't see a pattern in anything that might explain why babies are born premature. The cause of infant deaths suffered among Marshall County couples seems just as murky.

"They're not kids, not low income - just normal middle-class people who have tried to do everything right," King says of her fellow residents at Ronald McDonald House.

"There's not a person there who wouldn't do everything possible for their child," she adds.

King has seen many deaths in the course of Drayke's stay in an NICU. When a baby is known to be losing the fight for life, she says, the staff puts a white sticker on the door of the infant's room. A blue teardrop is printed on the white sticker.

"Your heart just sinks because you know what's happening," she says.

A local mystery

There are no easy answers to the high local infant mortality rate.

Cause of death remains confidential, so it's practically impossible to determine which of the common causes cited by health experts - obesity, poverty, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, violence, stress and smoking - apply to Marshall County's babies.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," said Steve Calahan, assistant director of the Marshall County Emergency Medical Service, when he was told about the statistics.

He's acknowledged factors such as a poor education and low incomes lead to poor results for mothers and their babies.

"Every child is our future and women are the gatekeepers of children's health," said Anna Childress who chairs the Marshall County Health Council.

She's also a certified La Leche League leader, able to help new mothers breastfeed their babies. La Leche is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization to provide education, information, mother-to-mother support, and encouragement to women who want to breastfeed.

"If babies got to the breast in the first hour, it would save one million babies worldwide," Childress says, quoting a maxim she knows by heart. "Good healthcare starts with breastfeeding."

The good fight

Drayke's parents, Lorrie King and Robert Crom, have no idea when their son may come home, although she says, "It's looking pretty good."

The baby's doctor wants to have Drayke weaned from intravenous sedation by Christmas. Then he has to learn to breathe on his own, without the ventilator, and to swallow, so that he can be given a bottle.

"He hasn't given up," King says. "This little boy has a purpose in life. We just don't know what it is yet."

Drayke's mother maintains an Internet blog on her son's progress. Visit