From heart-break to hope: saving babies' lives

Image with caption: Connections team members want to reduce the infant mortality rate in Douglas County.
Connections team members want to reduce the infant mortality rate in Douglas County.

The statistics are heartbreaking, but undeniable. According to www.douglascohealth.org, for 2010, the infant mortality rate for African Americans in Douglas County was 17.6 per 1,000 births, as compared to 2.7 per 1,000 for Hispanics, and 4.8 per 1,000 for White/Non-Hispanic individuals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ target is for our nation’s infant mortality goal not to exceed 6.0 per 1,000 live births.

Jack Turman, Ph.D., director of physical therapy education at the School of Allied Health Professions, College of Medicine, is principal investigator on the Connections Project, a grassroots outreach-research partnership between North Omaha community members, UNMC and state and county personnel to create a network that supports healthy pregnancy and infant development. Its goal is to improve birth outcomes in the African-American community.

“This is all being done in partnership with community, not on community,” Dr. Turman said. “Women and families that have experienced adverse birth outcomes are going to have the most insight into the conditions surrounding adverse outcomes, and be the best at determining effective solutions to address these conditions” he said.

As a neuroscientist who has studied environments that are conducive for healthy brain and behavior development in infants, Dr. Turman is partnering with women in the community to find those solutions.

Gail Ross is one of the project’s three Community Health Advocacy Leaders. She was born, raised, lives, and is raising her children in North Omaha.

“With the Connections Project, the focus is on thriving,” Ross said.

The most well-known aspect of the Connections Project is the pregnancy peer support program. Up to 20 pregnant mothers are matched with North Omaha women who were trained as peer supporters as part of the Connections Project. Their role is to provide the pregnant women with additional emotional and informational support.

“By providing this additional emotional support, and links to community resources, peer supporters help keep stress at the minimum, thus promoting healthy pregnancies. We want both mom and baby to thrive,” Ross said.

The project’s next phase is improving early-learning cognitive development in the babies from ages 3-12 months; a time when the brain is developing critical circuits for learning and memory.

Mothers and infants will be enrolled in a program that fosters maternal-infant interaction that promotes early language development.