My Sister in the Struggle to Reduce Infant Mortality

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Kimberly Seals Allers

There are sisters. And there are sisters. I consider Phyllis Rabinowitz to be my sister in the struggle to save infants who never make it to their first birthday–a cause I am passionately committed to. Phyllis joined the fight after enduring a mother’s worst nightmare.

On July 21, 2006, her daughter Rebecca Ava died at 8-day-old after being misdiagnosed in the emergency room. The trauma began with their ER experience.

"The doctor was so dismissive. He was like, ‘This is just a common cold. I’ve seen children for 20 years. I’ve got to get to a real emergency down the hall.’ . . . No matter what my husband and I asked for, the whole experience was very condescending. We knew she was sick," Phyllis recalls.

They refused to readmit her. By the next morning baby Rebecca was septic and bleeding from the nose. Phyllis will never forget the sight of her husband desperately performing CPR and the seemingly endless ride in the ambulance, but baby Rebecca didn’t make it. The Rabinowitz’s ordered a state autopsy, independent of the hospital, which revealed that baby Rebecca had a common enteroviral infection, not a common cold. Had baby Rebecca’s symptoms been properly diagnosed and treated she would still be here today.

Instead Phyllis and her husband, Andrew, learned in the most horrible way that most emergency room physicians are not properly trained in pediatric emergency care. In fact, very few hospitals have all the necessary equipment to properly treat babies.

"Like any parent, we were profoundly sad and angry. I was in a deep depression. We started researching for answers. We knew something was not right. We learned how all ERs are not created equal when it comes to being ready to treat infants," Phyllis says.

And then, sitting in their den, with supportive friends and family, Phyllis and her husband decided to do something. The R Baby Foundation http://www.rbabyfoundation.org/index.php was born with the distinct purpose of saving as many babies lives as possible, particularly those have some sort of viral infection in their first month of life, by improving pediatric care in emergency rooms across the country.

Today their work includes, raising awareness around infant mortality and emergency room care, providing training opportunities for anyone who touches a baby, providing life-saving equipment to hospitals and parent education (check the website for a soon-to-be-released 10-page guide for parents).

I’m a proud supporter of the R Baby Foundation and I am always inspired by Phyllis’ commitment to teach parents how to advocate for their children. This for me is especially important in the African American community, where the quality of the healthcare we receive is often tainted by bias, stereotypes and living in underserved communities.

This year, the MochaManual team and I will be once again participating in the R Baby Foundation’s Mother’s Day Run/Walk http://www.rbabyrunwalk.org/Markslist/ext/rba/home.do?masterCampaignId=3130 on Sunday, May 9th in Central Park, New York City, to raise awareness and funds to improve emergency pediatric care for babies. There are plenty of activities for the whole family. Visit www.mochamanual.com for details for our team. What a great way to start my Mother’s Day!

As for life after loss, Phyllis said it best: "My baby only lived 8 days, but she’s in my heart everyday. And she inspired us to help save other babies so they could live their lives."

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