Sean Daneshmand, M.D., is an obstetrician at San Diego Perinatal Center, specializing in high-risk pregnancies.
After watching parents with newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit go through serious emotional and financial struggles, he founded the nonprofit Miracle Babies to provide support and financial assistance to these families.
The group provides aid for housing and medical expenses, baby supplies and transportation costs.
Beyond the medical needs of a critically ill baby, Daneshmand said, families need emotional support, other parents to talk to and money.
Parents may need to travel long distances to be with their newborn in the hospital. They may have other children who require child care. They may need to meet with multiple doctors each week.
And when they go to the hospital, they must pay for parking and food. Even without considering the medical bills, the costs quickly add up.
“Expense is a big issue. It causes a lot of emotional anguish,” Daneshmand said. “Having a baby in the NICU takes an emotional and psychological toll. The two things they need are support and money.”
Families with babies in the NICU for more than two weeks can apply for assistance from Miracle Babies. They must meet with a social worker and demonstrate proof of financial need.
Since its founding in 2009, Miracle Babies has provided $500,000 to more than 1,300 families. No qualified applicants have ever been turned down.
The organization receives most of its funding from individual donors, small grants and events, such as the upcoming Sixth Annual Miracle Babies Run/Walk 5K on May 4.
The group also has a few corporate sponsors that provide some support, but Daneshmand said he would like to see more corporations step up and give at a higher level.
In February, Miracle Babies partnered with the YMCA to launch a new program to raise awareness about the importance of health during pregnancy, to reduce premature births.
“Healthy Women Healthy Children” offers a physical fitness program and nutrition education classes to low-income women with a body mass index of 30 and above who are planning to become pregnant in the next two years or are in their first trimester.
Obesity has been linked to hypertension and gestational diabetes, which can lead to pre-term pregnancies. Maternal obesity also may be linked to heart and spine defects.
“Once we started Miracle Babies, it was very obvious to me the psychological effects of having a sick kid in the ICU on women,” Daneshmand said.
“That’s when we decided to try and minimize the number of children getting admitted to the ICU” by improving opportunities for healthy pregnancies, he said.
The program offers free child care, nutritional education, access to a gym and a personal trainer.
Daneshmand said the biggest challenge so far has been getting women to the program, and getting them to stick with it.
Additional incentives include fresh groceries for attending nutritional appointments and cookware for completing the program.
While the primary outcome is weight loss, Daneshmand said the Healthy Women Healthy Children also aims to create a healthier lifestyle for the mother and a healthier environment for the baby even before birth.
“The goal is to reduce unhealthy habits and promote a healthier pregnancy,” Daneshmand said.
-Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.