Health leaders seek community action on infant mortality, premature birth | Health



Public health leaders in Smith County are urging community action in light of the region's rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality and premature birth.

They spoke at an event called "Purple for Preemies" in the T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza on Friday where dozens of participants walked around the downtown square in support of research on premature birth.

A state-funded coalition of Smith County public health leaders called Healthy Me Healthy Babies sponsored the event with the Northeast Texas Public Health District, also known as NET Health, and the city of Tyler.

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NET Health CEO George Roberts and Tecora Smith, director for women, infants and children for NET Health, stand and listen during Purple for Preemies on the Square at T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza in Tyler, Texas, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Each November, the March of Dimes celebrates Prematurity Awareness Month and World Prematurity Day, and NET Health and the Healthy Me Healthy Babies Coalition worked together to make the event on the square possible. (Chelsea Purgahn / Tyler Morning Telegraph)



"When you think about infant mortality and maternal mortality, does that problem just belong to the family?" Asked Susan Rodriguez, the chair of the Healthy Me Healthy Babies coalition. "No, it belongs to the whole community."

The walk on Friday took place in advance of March of Dimes' World Prematurity Awareness Day on Saturday. The March of Dimes is a national nonprofit organization that promotes healthy outcomes for mothers and babies. The foundation is rooted in research into President Franklin D. Roosevelt's disability due to polio and was once called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

Rodriguez pointed to Smith County's high infant mortality rate. She urged people in attendance to talk to the people they know about the issue and the services that are available to expectant mothers to help achieve healthy healthy pregnancies. As an example, she said she spoke to someone randomly and now plans to give a presentation about pregnancy health options to a group of about 30 women.

Numerous national, statewide and regional studies have come out over the past few years showing racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality rates in Texas and in Northeast Texas. A 2016 data book from the March of Dimes put the state's infant mortality rate for white women at 5.1 per 1,000 births, compared to 5.3 for Hispanic women and 10.7 for black women.

The trend was similar for prematurity and low birth weight – two risk factors to a baby dying before its first birthday. The preterm birth rate for white women was 9.8 percent from 2010 to 2012, compared to 10.1 percent for Hispanic women and 14 percent for black women. White women had a 7.3 percent rate of low birth weight births, compared to 7.6 percent for Hispanic women and 13.4 percent for black women.

Tecora Smith, director of the Women, Infant, and Children program for NET Health, said women and their families should challenge public health leaders like her to demonstrate how they are working to improve on the issues. She also called for more public health leaders to tell their own stories.

Smith said she became interested in health care when she used the WIC program herself, and she wants families to know that so they know they are not alone. She also told a story of how her sister gave birth to a premature stillborn child via natural delivery but went on to have three healthy children.

"They made her deliver her baby," she said of the doctors who worked with her sister. "That affected me. I cried when she cried. That hurt me, and she asked me, 'Should I do it?' I said, 'Yes. I need you to push. 'Do you know that hurt? But I needed her to do that because I equipped her with hope. "

"I said, 'You know what, we're going to work on what you're eating. We're going to look at your support circle. And you know what? You're gonna have a baby, but I need you to be patient while we get your body ready for another baby, "Smith said.

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Tasha Wade, left, and others listen during Purple for Preemies on the Square at T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza in Tyler, Texas, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Each November, the March of Dimes celebrates Prematurity Awareness Month and World Prematurity Day, and NET Health and the Healthy Me Healthy Babies Coalition worked together to make the event on the square possible. (Chelsea Purgahn / Tyler Morning Telegraph)



Tasha Wade, 27, of Tyler, was one of four women in the audience who stood up when another event speaker asked those who had given birth prematurely to stand. She said in an interview that she lost the baby, Oasah William, when he was 2 days old.

Wade, who was 25 years old and 24 weeks pregnant at the time, said she had a condition called preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy that includes high blood pressure. She said doctors suspected the cause could have been blood pressure issues or the fact that it was her first pregnancy.

Now, she said she is focusing on her own health so she can carry a baby to term in the future. "I'll have kids again one day," she said.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield


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