By Ray Sanchez, CNN
(CNN) — Mac Jaehnert said he drove 1,000 miles in his car in the past week looking for a special formula for daughter MacKenzie and other premature babies in his community in southeastern Washington.
“It was a frustrating, heartbreaking, unnecessary challenge for a child who has already overcome so much,” Jaehnert told CNN on Saturday, echoing the sentiments of parents caught up in a worsening nationwide baby food shortage.
Jaehnert described empty store shelves during his search for Similac NeoSure in the city of Richland and surrounding areas — part of a growing national crisis that has forced the Biden administration to order the use of military aircraft to accelerate the delivery of baby food to the United States. . States.
Jaehnert and his wife, Emily, said they were lucky enough to receive donations from NeoSure after they got their story out there, but urged others to donate cans of formula to food banks to help meet the pressing need across the globe. country to comply.
At least four babies have recently been hospitalized at Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) due to complications from the ongoing shortage, spokeswoman Carter Coyle said.
Coyle said three babies had been hospitalized due to intolerance to formulas used by parents because of the shortages; another became ill from mineral imbalances from health care providers mixing their own formula.
Clinical dieticians at the hospital urged parents not to dilute the formula or attempt to make it themselves, citing guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In Memphis, Tennessee, a doctor at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital this week said a toddler and preschooler were hospitalized because the special formula they needed was out of stock and they couldn’t tolerate substitutions.
The toddler, who had been in the hospital for about a week, was released on Tuesday. The toddler, who was admitted in April, is still in hospital, according to the hospital.
Baby food shortages affect parents from coast to coast, including those who choose not to breastfeed or are unable to breastfeed and those whose medically vulnerable children cannot tolerate other sources of nutrition.
In addition to scouring the internet, parents like the Jaehnerts tirelessly scour store shelves on a daily basis. Others coordinate formula exchanges through Facebook pages and spend countless hours — and sometimes huge sums of money — making sure their kids have food.
MacKenzie Jaehnert was born three months earlier in December and weighed 2 pounds, 5.7 ounces, her father said on Twitter. She spent more than 100 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Jaehnert said Saturday that he and his wife are “terrified” at the prospect of transitioning “a child who is only just holding” to a new nutritional formula.
“I’m afraid she’ll lose even more of her growth chart than she already is,” Emily Jaehnert said of MacKenzie. “I’m afraid she’s going to have an upset stomach, that it won’t sit well with her, that she won’t get the nutrition she needs that this particular formula is giving her right now.”
Washington officials are now facing criticism that the US Food and Drug Administration acted too slowly to address warning signs of the shortage. At the same time, they’re trying to figure out whether formula companies are actually short of ingredients, while also trying to address potential price pushes.
The heart of the crisis is a shuttered factory in Michigan. Abbott Nutrition’s factory, which is about to resume production soon, was closed after two babies who had consumed the formula produced there fell ill and died, prompting an investigation.
The shutdown exacerbated the shortages caused by supply chain disruptions and highlighted how concentrated the formula industry is.
“I would really like someone to find out why we as parents of premature children were not warned,” Mac Jaehnert said on Saturday. “This absolutely blinded us… When did they know and why weren’t we warned about this shortage, because it put a lot of families in a really devastating position.”
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