Health

Families Battling Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Hope To Raise Awareness

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
pregnant womanpregnant woman

Fetal alcohol syndrome comes with a variety of complications ranging from mental health and behavioral problems to seizures. The diagnosis for Seth Russell of Australia came after 17 years of suffering.

"I wasn't an alcoholic; I definitely wasn't an alcoholic at the time, thinking back, but I did drink socially, a few drinks," Seth’s mother, Anne Russell, told ABC News.

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Seth, 31, has been struggling with the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome since he was born.

"I've been suicidal my whole life," he said. "I look fine, I act fine, I'm well-spoken, but nobody actually knows what goes on in my head. Things that my brain does to me without me even wanting to.”

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Anne was stunned by her son's diagnosis; she was unaware that it takes very little alcohol to cause lifelong problems.

"I just thought I was a bad parent ... I just thought it was me; I thought I was doing something wrong,” she said. "I didn't know how to be a good parent. [I thought]: 'I'm not going to make these children into happy productive children who love life; I'm going to destroy them.'"

Seth was plagued with behavioral problems from a young age.

"I [would get] up in the middle of the night, I'd check his room and he wouldn't be there," Anne said. "I'd have to go out walking around or driving around in the car to try and find him.

"Every police siren, every time we saw the police go past, every time we heard an ambulance, it was Seth. It got so bad that we had this black humor that, you know, 'What's happened to Seth?’"

The Russells aren’t alone in their struggle. In the United States, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) affect about one out of every 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, in-person assessments of school children yield even higher numbers -- between 6 and 9 children out of every 1,000.

Unlike Seth, Jaimie Holland, also of Australia, didn’t have to wait 17 years to be diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. The 10-year-old was initially diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, but her parents suspected something else was causing her behavioral problems.

"We tried all going to see these different therapists and psychologists and what not; we tried all these different strategies with her behavior, but it just didn't seem to work," Claire Holland, Jaimie's mother, told ABC News.

Claire and her husband, Brad, were wrecked with guilt when Jaimie was diagnosed.

"I had no idea of the detriment that drinking does, of the actual brain damage it causes," Claire said. "I was just torn apart with guilt, and it was a really dark time."

"I guess I'm sort of kind of to blame as well, because I was there during the pregnancy drinking with her,” Brad said. "It was never sort of over the top; we were never sort of rolling around blind drunk ... for me, I mean like I'd get home from work, have a beer, have another beer, pour Claire a beer."

Anne is now campaigning to help raise awareness about fetal alcohol syndrome.

"I'm afraid I've failed," she said. "My son isn't happy; he's not happy. I don't see a point in time where he is likely to be completely happy. And that's all parents, mums want for their children, isn't it?

"There is hope. I do believe that there is hope, but it's a long haul.”

Sources: ABC News, CDC / Photo credit: Daniel Lobo/Flickr