“Some Infants Experience Strokes in Utero or Soon After Birth, Causing Physical and Cognitive Problems. New Therapies May Help”

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The Story

“Some Infants Experience Strokes in Utero or Soon After Birth, Causing Physical and Cognitive Problems. New Therapies May Help.”
by Sarah Witman
The Washington Post, February 24, 2020

The Pitch

Hi Laura,

We met a few years ago at a AAAS meeting, but I haven’t had the pleasure of working with you before. I’m a science writer based in New York, and I’ve contributed to Wired, Popular Science, Discover, the Pacific Standard, and the New York Times, among others.

[Name redacted] recommended I reach out to you in hopes of placing a piece I’ve been working on about infant strokes. I normally wouldn’t pitch a fully written piece, but I wrote it for the NYT Science section and it ended up getting killed—as such, I’d be happy to rework it depending on your thoughts. The draft is currently 1,350 words, starting with the personal story of a mother whose four-year-old son is partially paralyzed due to a stroke he sustained in utero. It then expands to discuss the prevalence and causes of infant stroke, the current state of research, and an upcoming phase-three clinical trial on rehabilitating infant stroke patients. Here’s a bit more background:

Most people think of stroke as something that happens to elderly people, as that’s most commonly the case. But about 1 in every 4000 infants have strokes, too. A child’s highest risk of stroke is in their first year of birth, especially right before or after birth. Infant strokes can be triggered by many things, including congenital heart defects, immune disorders, abnormal blood clotting, head or neck injury, or an infection during pregnancy. But because they’re pretty rare, they’re often misdiagnosed, or diagnosed months later.

Like with older people, infant stroke can be debilitating for patients—they can have seizures, paralysis, and other learning and developmental problems. And the recovery process is very difficult for these patients because instead of recovering lost skills, they are developing them for the first time.

Furthermore, the rehabilitation techniques that are being used are not very well studied. Dr. Sharon Landesman-Ramey is a researcher at Virginia Tech, and the PI for the first-ever phase-three clinical trial in the US aimed at rehabilitating stroke victims, which is currently recruiting participants. She says: “Given the impact of infant stroke on the child and families, it is astonishing that there is little or no scientific evidence to support the current rehabilitation approaches being used.”

In previous trials with more than 30 infants receiving the therapy developed by Landesman-Ramey and other researchers over the past 16 years, more than 90 percent have seen benefits. This trial is “the next step in constraint-induced movement therapy,” says the University of Toronto’s Dr. Gabrielle deVeber, who is not involved in the trial. “It’s going to help with refining the dose.”

Please let me know if this sounds like a good fit for your section, and if you’d like to see the full draft.

All the best,

Sarah Witman

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