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1960s / Short Life of Patrick Kennedy
For two days in August 1963, the attention and concern of many Americans was focused on the newborn son of president John F. Kennedy, Patrick. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born by emergency caesarean section five-and-a-half weeks early at the Otis Air Force Base Hospital in Bourne, Massachusetts. His birth weight of 4 pounds 10-1/2 ounces medically classified him as premature. Immediately after Patrick's birth, he was transferred to Boston Children's Hospital where he died two days later of hyaline membrane disease, following treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. His obituary in The New York Times stated that, at that time, all that could be done for a victim of hyaline membrane disease "is to monitor the infant's blood chemistry and to try to keep it near normal levels." Hyaline membrane disease, now more commonly called respiratory distress syndrome, helped spark new public awareness of the disease and further research. In 2004, the disease had an overall mortality of less than 15%—lower among mildly to moderately premature infants, such as with the Kennedys' infant son. Had he been born 50 years later in August 2013, his odds of survival would have been 95%. Treatment modalities are now widely available in developed countries, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), pulmonary surfactant replacement, and improved respirator technology, that either did not exist or were unavailable in 1963.