"Damaged Angels" Book Review

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Damaged Angels - USA Edition

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Damaged Angels - Canadian Edition

Edmonton Journal Sunday, March 21, 2004 Page: D12

Byline: Liane Faulder


Source: The Edmonton Journal

Damaged Angels: A Mother Discovers the Terrible Cost of Alcohol in Pregnancy

by Bonnie Buxton


336 pp., $24.95 Review by Liane Faulder As a cautionary tale, Damaged Angels should be read by each and every person who thought it was OK to have a little nip now and again during pregnancy.

The book, subtitled A Mother Discovers the Terrible Cost of Alcohol in Pregnancy, dispels that myth with searing statistics and horrifying true-life stories.

The book, however, remains more of a guide to parents of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (the term now used to describe brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure) and others affected by FASD than a compelling narrative. Though penned by a talented writer, Toronto journalist Bonnie Buxton, the tone of the book is different than The Broken Cord, the 1989 memoir by American writer Michael Dorris which was made into a movie and tells the heartbreaking story of his brain-damaged, adopted son.

The strength of Damaged Angels is that it is a comprehensive look at the medical perspective, the social fallout and the potential for prevention of FASD. These useful chapters are woven among the author's personal story, which is what draws readers through the book. While not exactly entertaining, Damaged Angels does hook readers who are also parents with the connection moms and dads feel to each other, regardless of differing circumstances. It will be hard for anyone to read this book without sympathizing with the author's plight; her life was thrown into disarray because of her daughter's brain damage, and it could have happened to anyone.

Buxton and her husband, Brian Philcox, were in their early 40s when they adopted two daughters. Colette was the second one. Philcox andBuxton first met Colette in 1980 when she was 10 months old and came into the home of foster parents who had once cared for their first adopted daughter, Cleo.

At the time, Colette showed no signs of the brain damage that was later to lead her into a life as a crack-abusing squeegee kid. Physically well-developed with thick blond curls, Colette was bright and full of energy. But from the very day she came to live with the Buxton clan, things went awry. Colette had terrible problems adjusting to the new family situation, as did Cleo (who was later diagnosed with depression).

By the age of four, Colette had shown her predilection for stealing and lying about it. In grade school, more problems erupted when she was unable to master basic literacy skills. Regularly, Colette was put through tests to assess her problems and sometimes there were brief flurries of improvement.

But it always fell apart. As Buxton describes it, their lives became an "unending orbit of love, grief, despair and hope."

Buxton's personal story is crafted with skill in the first two chapters.

Then she branches out to tackle topics like the link between FASD and the penal system and the rising international tide of FASD, which is fast becoming recognized as a serious problem from South Africa to Japan. After more than 20 years of experience with the issue, Buxton (one of the founders of International FAS Awareness Day) has an enormous knowledge bank, and her book does a thorough job of outlining the magnitude of the problem.

Buxton accomplishes a great deal in Damaged Angels by combining her own sad, though hopeful, story with the facts about FASD. Over and over again, the reader is struck by the frustrating truth. This disorder is entirely preventable and nobody should have to go through it. Damaged Angels should go a long way towards educating the public and preventing such tragedies as Colette's story from being repeated.

Liane Faulder is a Journal feature writer

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Bonnie Buxton and Daughter Collette

Bonnie Buxton with daughter Colette (FASD)  2004 Brian Philcox Photo used with permission


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