Friday, October 29, 2010

Stevie the Wonder Preemie

Maybe it’s because by the time I came on the scene Stevie Wonder was singing dopey duets with Paul McCartney. I just couldn’t take him seriously. (My dad and I used to sing, “I just called . . . to say . . . you smell bad.” We thought we were so clever). Stevie Wonder was like fingernails on the chalkboard. I hated Stevie Wonder. What was all the fuss about?*

* Except for “Superstition.” That was always a pretty rockin’ song.

But all that changed in January.

Stevie Wonder was a preemie. And my boys owe their sight, in part, to Stevie’s blindness.

It’s a condition called ROP—Retinopathy of Prematurity. It happens because oxygen, like everything in excess, is a poison. In the early days of keeping preemies alive, they were given higher levels of oxygen in their incubators, the rationale being that more is better. Room air typically is only about 21% O2. These preemies were getting 70% or even 100%. The long story involves stuff about vascularization. The short story is that preemie’s eyes aren’t fully developed and too much O2 blows out their blood vessels, resulting in blindness.

These days, oxygen levels are very closely regulated and at-risk preemies are checked regularly for signs of ROP. There’s more stuff about stages and regular checkups (the twins had three such checkups in their first three months) and if necessary, there are interventions—the most invasive of which is eye surgery.

Bottom line is, everything we know about growing healthy preemies is learned from the mistakes of preemies past. In the field of neonatology the guinea pigs are the preemies themselves. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous ones. When Little Stevie Wonder was in his little greenhouse, the goal was to keep ‘em alive and keep ‘em breathing; his blindness was a small price to pay for life itself.

As soon as I found out that Stevie Wonder was a preemie, my attitude toward his music changed. I think of Stevie’s mom, biting her lip and praying for her tiny son who is fighting for his breath. I want to hug her.

“You can’t imagine how great things are going to get,” I want to tell her. “Your son is going to do amazing things. He will inspire generations of musicians. People will drink his music like wine. His contribution to music will pale in comparison to his contribution to science. He will help advance the field of neonatology simply by his existence.”

Thanks, Stevie. Thanks, Mrs. Wonder. You guys rock.

© 2010 Janine Kovac


  1. I'm your newest follower. Reaching out to fellow preemie mommy's! Return the love at

  2. Hi Preemie Mami! Your girls are beautiful! Love to you, your husband, Sasa and Mimi.

  3. Hard to believe you weren't a Stevie Wonder fan..."part-time lover?" Good stuff. Anyhow, thanks for teaching me something new about him!