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Clinton Signs Birth Defects Bill

April 22, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Born nearly four months prematurely, T.J. Stallbaumer was not expected to survive. But now the healthy 5-year-old from Rogers, Ark., is getting the red carpet treatment at the White House as the March of Dimes national ambassador.

T.J. got to meet not only President Clinton, but also to pet and feed Buddy, the president’s chocolate Labrador retriever.

``I think the White House is the biggest house in the whole world,″ said T.J., a preschooler who said he might like to occupy the White House himself one day _ or be a policeman.

The youngster attended the Oval Office signing Tuesday of a birth defects prevention measure that creates an information clearing house, paves the way for regional research centers and boosts funding for prevention campaigns.

``Basically what the bill does, for the first time, is to authorize a federal program of research, surveillance and treatment for birth defects prevention,″ said March of Dimes President Jennifer Howse. March of Dimes, the national voluntary health agency, was the bill’s leading advocate.

The government currently provides $26 million through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the new law authorizes up to $30 million this year and $40 million next year. The CDC will coordinate a national registry of birth defects.

``It’s high time we had a national strategy in place to fight birth defects,″ said Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., the bill’s author.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, had pushed the measure after an unexplained cluster of birth defects in his district in the Rio Grande Valley. Thirty-three children there were born with defects in 1990 and 1991, most with anencephaly, a fatal condition in which babies are born with undeveloped brains.

``I was happy to see that after six years, our labors of love were rewarded,″ Ortiz said.

Scientists have not yet pinpointed a specific cause for the outbreak. Birth defect rates along the border have dropped since but remain higher than the national average.

``I was not a high-risk mom in the early months of my pregnancy with T.J.,″ said Jennifer Stallbaumer, a homemaker whose husband, Tom, publishes The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas. ``The problems that T.J. had could happen to anybody’s baby.″

The best thing about the White House, T.J. said before trotting away to be scooped up by his dad, was petting Buddy. ``I got to give him doggie treats,″ he said.

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