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He Still Bears the Burden of his Mother's Drinking
Jan 18, 1997
San Diego Union Tribune
When Wesley Perkins was born, he smelled like a brewery.

It was 1973, and the University of Washington researchers had just coined the term "fetal-alcohol syndrome." Wes would become the first baby diagnosed at birth as having FAS.

Recalls psychologist Ann Streissguth, who was on the original team of researchers: "Out comes this alcoholic baby with classic FAS. He was growth deficient, this little wizened thing, flat mid-face, tiny chin, smooth (above the lip)."

The University of Washington researchers have followed him through his 23 years, as one of 11 children who led them originally to identify the syndrome. With an IQ of about 40, he is one of the lowest functioning of the 11.

Today, he still lives with Juanita Jacoby, who brought him home from the hospital when he was 3 weeks old. His mother, who'd already had seven children, abandoned him. Jacoby is now his legal guardian.

Despite help from state workers, he has not been able to keep a job. He can take care of his basic needs, but he cannot read or write, except to scrawl his name. He learned in special-education classes to recognize some basic signs: stop-go; men-women; entrance-exit.

He paces constantly, is somewhat difficult to understand, and can be destructive, especially on nights he can't sleep. He usually averages sleep only every other night.

Yet he's smiling, friendly. Most of Jacoby's neighbors know and enjoy him. He has a girl he's liked since first grade. He looks forward to "spaghetti night" at the senior center, where he's a favorite.

There was only one attempt to adopt him, as far as Jacoby knows. That happened after Wes's natural mother was found dead in a flophouse, says Jacoby; Wes was 5. But when the adoptive family spent about a half-hour with him, they changed their minds.

Jacoby worries about the future; she'll take care of him as long as she can, but she's 63, with osteoarthritis, and her husband's had three open-heart surgeries.

Streissguth says what they have learned from Wes is that, even under the best of circumstances, even with "the excellent nurturing" he received from the experienced Jacoby, "Despite all this, he is severely compromised in his development."

The University of Washington team continues to follow the original 11 FAS children. Ten years after the original study, one participant had disappeared and two had died; the remaining eight include four who were "substantially retarded" and four who were in the "retarded" to "dull-normal" range.