This morning, I was honored to be a speaker and an award presenter at the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County's annual meeting. In attendance at the meeting were Sarasota Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner, Florida Representative Keith Fitzgerald, Jim McCloud and Lisa Merritt from the Newtown Health Advisory Council, and many other members of our community that have a vested interest in improving maternal and infant health in Sarasota.
Jenna Norwood, Chair of the 2009 Healthy Start Board of Directors, began the program by emphasizing the mission of the Healthy Start Coalition: to promote the health and well-being of pregnant women, infants, and young children in Sarasota County. She then presented the 2009 Mission Award to Rebecca Clapp, a Healthy Start Care Coordinator retiring this year after 37 years with the Sarasota County Healthy Department.
Then it was my turn to deliver a Message from Sarasota's Moms. I hope I spoke for all of you when I said that what Sarasota's moms need most is support. The support of our families, our friends, our care providers and our community. The support that comes from having the ability to ask a question of our care provider, and receive a sound, evidence-based answer. The support of knowing that the very best and latest research is being analyzed behind the scenes to give us the healthiest pregnancies, the safest deliveries, and the best outcomes for our babies. I also introduced the meeting's attendees to the upcoming panel discussion Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond.
It was then my privilege to present the 2009 Family of the Year Award to Veronica Alvarez-Perez, who accepted graciously, with her two beautiful children, through tears of joy. Veronica embodies what Healthy Start is all about. This mother wanted to assure that her newly blended family thrived in a safe, loving environment, and could handle the stressors which they were facing. She followed through with all Healthy Start referrals for services, and attended all of her counseling sessions. She participated in the Healthy Families/Healthy Children program, sought out and received financial assistance and necessary baby items for her two month old, and even learned Infant and Child CPR. In face of hardships, she made sure her baby attended all well-child exams, and remained healthy through infancy.
Jennifer Highland, Healthy Start Executive Director (and panelist for Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century), then introduced the 16 minute film Reducing Infant Mortality. I was so pleased that she chose this groundbreaking expose, produced by filmmaker Debbie Takikawa. The film investigates possible reasons for the US's staggering 33rd ranking in infant mortality, including overuse of medical intervention and lack of prenatal care for many Americans. It also suggests paths to improving this condition, such as the Midwifery Model of Care and breastfeeding.
Jennifer concluded the film's presentation with a powerful message about Healthy Start’s fetal and infant mortality rates, leading risk factors, and how the community can work together to improve pregnancy health and have better birth outcomes.
Jennifer then presented the Lawton Chiles Award to Dr. Jerome Isaac. The Lawton Chiles Award is presented to an individual in the community whose contributions to prenatal or early child health in Sarasota County are characterized by exceptional commitment, wisdom, leadership, and vision. From Jennifer's introduction of Dr. Isaac:
"Research has long shown that breastfeeding is the number one way to promote infant health and prevent a variety of problems and adverse affects, some of which last a lifetime. The winner of this award has stood at the forefront of breastfeeding promotion among area pediatricians and hospitals. He understands the circumstances which can enhance or defeat successful breastfeeding, and many times seemed to be the lone figure in advocating for the breastfeeding dyad. We admire and wholly support his tireless efforts to help make sure infants receive the best start in life through breastfeeding, and hope he will be joined by many others in the medical community to fully adopt practices which support breastfeeding."
Dr. Isaac accepted the award with a powerful message of his own, encouraging other members of the pediatric profession to look at breastfeeding as a preventative cure for many of the chronic diseases that face their patients today.
Janice Baxter, Contract and Quality Assurance Manager for Healthy Start, presented the Community Partner of the Year Award to the First Step Mothers and Infants Program, for their collaboration with Healthy Start to develop a strong, focused incentive program for pregnant women and new mothers who are in the First Step residential treatment program for substance abuse and addiction. Recognizing that two of the top priorities for health improvement are stopping smoking and breastfeeding your infant, the staff in this program created a special incentive program to reward residents who have stopped smoking and who are breastfeeding their infants.
Healthy Start board members Shara Abrams and Kelly Kirschner then presented the Media Partner of the Year Award to Jackie Barron, of WFLA, News Channel 8. Kelly gave a personal account of his own struggle with the premature birth of his son, Bodhi, and Bodhi's need for the vaccine that prevents RSV, a potentially lethal respiratory infection. This vaccine is needed in a large percentage of premature babies, and was not covered by insurance. But because of Jackie's reporting to the public the dangers of RSV, the cost of the vaccine is now covered.
The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, Inc. is the only organization that is actively working to improve the health and well-being of Sarasota's pregnant mothers, babies, and infants. While the Coalition does receive government funding, it simply isn't enough to help this group execute and implement the programs necessary to literally save the lives of Sarasota's families. Please consider donating to this incredible effort.