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Funding woes threaten to end service for pregnant women

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Health care providers at the Texas Teratogen Information Service (TTIS) Pregnancy Risk Line, a non-profit organization based at the University of North Texas in Denton that aims to educate women about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, will celebrate its 20th anniversary Monday, July 18th with an open house, visits from pregnant and new moms who’ve used the service, free educational materials and refreshments.

Ironically, this may be its last anniversary celebration due to funding cuts.

For the past 16 years, the main source of funding for the TTIS Pregnancy Riskline has been through the Texas Health Department’s Title V Maternal and Child Health grant.

“This year when we applied for the grant, we were not awarded the funds, and we were told that the monies were being given to another university,” explained Lori Wolfe, genetic counselor at UNT and program director of TTIS Pregnancy Risk Line. 

“The health department said it decided to move in a new direction and would be giving the money to another university that already had other state funds, but did not have a birth defects education service,” she added.

The free TTIS Pregnancy Riskline service, which each year counsels in both English and Spanish about 2000 pregnant and breastfeeding Texas women and their health care providers, and educates approximately 10,000 more about dangerous exposures that can cause birth defects, is now set to run out of funds by the Spring of 2012.

“I think it would be devastating if this service were to go away because of a lack of funding,” said Mandi Anderson, now the mother of a healthy baby girl named Karley, who utilized the Pregnancy Riskline’s toll-free 800-733-4727 number many times to ask about certain medications she could take during her pregnancy.

“As a first-time mom, I had so many questions about medications, yet the counselors took their time with me and put my mind at ease.”

Each year there are 12,000 to 16,000 babies born with birth defects in Texas. Studies have shown that providing counseling prior to and early in a pregnancy can potentially reduce this number by 6% to 10% if the exposures are stopped, reduced, or changed to something without a known risk. According to TTIS officials, without the Pregnancy Riskline, thousands of Texas babies will be put at an increased risk for birth defects.

“We hear all the time that our callers could not have gotten through their pregnancies without us,” said Wolfe. “We know that the information that we have provided to those callers has prevented hundreds of unwanted terminations,” she added.

The TTIS Pregnancy Riskline is currently looking for any type of support through grants, donations, or foundations in order to avoid closing its doors next year.

UNT has offered to continue providing the service with office space and utilities, but cannot provide the program with support funds for salaries and other costs.

Donations to the TTIS are tax free and can be sent to: Texas Teratogen Information Service, c/o Lori Wolfe, UNT Dept. of Biology, 1155 Union Circle, #305220, Denton TX  76203.

The service is also accepting any ideas or leads to possible funding sources for the TTIS. Those interested in helping are encouraged to call 800-733-4727.

The public is also invited to attend the service’s open house this Monday, July 18th, from 12 to 1:30pm at the UNT Campus’ Life Science Complex Atrium located at 1511 West Sycamore in Denton. See the parking attendant on Ave. C for a parking pass.

Visit www.ttis.unt.edu for more information about the organization.

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