How an Inconspicuous Slaughterhouse Keeps the World’s Premature Babies Alive
March 12, 2018
(STAT News) – This small firm had carefully courted slaughterhouses so that its workers could be allowed inside to suck this off-white foam out of cow lungs. Then, they purified the hell out of it, and shipped vials of it across Canada, and to India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ecuador, and Iran, where it was shot into the lungs of struggling premature infants. Preemies’ lungs, like the rest of them, aren’t quite ready for birth, and some — almost all of those born very early — haven’t started producing this foam themselves. It’s called pulmonary surfactant, and without it, their air sacs could collapse. In the 1980s, doctors had tried squirting surfactant collected from other creatures in through the tiny nostrils and mouths of babies with respiratory distress syndrome, while also putting them on ventilators. The transformation was immediate: Newborns went from blue to pink. Their chests filled with air.