By Bailey Nicholas
Remember the horrific seizure Cybil on Downton Abbey experienced during childbirth that took her life? Unfortunately, this was not an over-dramatized scene made for TV audiences, nor was it a historical situation that has been eradicated by modern medicine. It is a scene that occurs far too often around the world to this day. It nearly happened to me.
Cybil’s seizure was the result of eclampsia, a condition preceded by preeclampsia which, when left unidentified and untreated, claims more lives of mothers and infants than any other pregnancy complication. Had I not been aware of the symptoms of preeclampsia and voiced my concern repeatedly to my doctors, my twins and I may not be here today. Ignoring my early signs of preeclampsia could have been deadly for all three of us.
May is Preeclampsia awareness month, and too few pregnant women are aware of how common and frankly, deadly, preeclampsia can be. The condition affects between 5 and 8 percent of pregnancies, claiming the lives of more than 75,000 mothers and 500,000 infants annually. Preeclampsia is not isolated to developing countries or to moms with preexisting conditions. Nearly 30% of moms on hospital bed rest right here in Tampa are hospitalized with preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders. I personally have three close friends diagnosed with preeclampsia who were the epitome of health before and during their pregnancy. Preeclampsia can happen to anyone.
As explained by the Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Symptoms include headaches, vision changes, excessive swelling and upper abdominal pain. Moms with early signs of preeclampsia are closely monitored, often in the hospital, because preeclampsia can rapidly progress to life-threatening conditions called eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. These conditions cause widespread organ failure and seizures. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery, therefore, many babies are delivered prematurely in order to save both mom and baby. Be aware, too, that preeclampsia can occur postpartum.
I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia while pregnant with my twins. During the last two weeks of my pregnancy, I nervously watched my blood pressure increase twofold, despite being on medication for preterm labor that coincidentally was also blood pressure medication. I gained 13 pounds of water weight in as many days. At my regularly scheduled perinatal appointment, a growth ultrasound showed that my daughter had not grown in two weeks, a result of high blood pressure. The doctor took my blood pressure, which measured 160/98 (my normal blood pressure is 100/60). He looked at me and said, “Whoa! What do you think would happen if we took you off the massive amounts of blood pressure medication you are currently taking?” My eyes welled up as I looked at him with relief that a doctor agreed with what I knew had been happening for two weeks. I had preeclampsia and the babies needed to come immediately.
I had an emergency c-section at 34 weeks 6 days gestation and my babies were rushed to NICU while I was kept on a 24-hour continuous drip of magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. During this 24 hours, I was not allowed to get out of my hospital bed and therefore unable to visit my babies in NICU. My heroic husband stayed by the twins’ bedside those first harrowing hours as my son struggled to breathe with his underdeveloped lungs and my daughter’s 4-pound body worked hard to lower bilirubin levels under a phototherapy light. And we are the lucky ones. My preeclampsia did not cause seizures and my twins’ made it longer in utero than many babies of moms with preeclampsia. Today, everyone is healthy.
If you take away just two things from my story, let it be this: Educate and Advocate. Educate yourself about the symptoms of preeclampsia and advocate for yourself if you suspect you have early signs of the condition. Many of the symptoms of preeclampsia are common pregnancy symptoms, but I urge anyone experiencing these to check their blood pressure. Most pharmacies have a free public blood pressure cuff. You will not regret making an extra trip to CVS but you will regret ignoring early signs of preeclampsia.
By Heather Barrow
I saw an article on Today.com this weekend. It asks parents, ‘If you handed your child a $20 bill with the opportunity to buy anything, or donate the money instead, what do you think he or she would do?’
Our family eats, sleeps and breathes philanthropy through our work at High Risk Hope. My children also live a blessed life and have difficulties differentiating wants versus needs.
The article had me wondering what my kids would do with the money. The timing for this challenge is perfect, as Give Day Tampa Bay is Tuesday, May 3rd, and the minimum donation is $25.
I put the $25 offer on the table and waited. My 9-year-old daughter Claire (who is currently still in the red for a riding helmet debt caused by her adopted puppy Tucker) immediately said she would donate the money. The only problem was she couldn’t decide between High Risk Hope and The Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Both are worthy causes but it’s ‘really hard’ to pick between babies and animals. I feel her pain. There is a good chance she will pick the puppies, which is OK with me (at least publicly).
My son Hill, who just celebrated his 7th birthday, declared he would give the $25 plus all of his birthday money to High Risk Hope. My heart be still. I knew it! I am raising an angel. Until he asked how many leaves he could pick off The Giving Tree for giving his $25 donation plus $200 in birthday money.
You see, The HRH Giving Tree is a way we are trying to teach our philanthropists, both young and old, about giving. Every one of the leaves on The Giving Tree correlates to a fantastic prize. Toys, $10- $50 Columbia gift cards, Kendra Scott Jewelry, a Pottery Barn Kids rocking horse and gift certificates from various Hyde Park Village stores. Claire and Hill have seen me loading these prizes for weeks. If someone donates $25 to HRH on Give Day Tampa Bay, they can pick a leaf off of the HRH Giving Tree by the fountain in Hyde Park. The idea, just like in the book The Giving Tree, is to give away all of our leaves throughout the day, and end up with only a stump. Every grown-up donor will receive a shopping pass full of discounts to Hyde Park Village stores and restaurants. We are going to roll out the purple carpet for every one of our HRH donors on Give Day, no matter how much they give.
It may not be Hill’s only reason for donating $25, but it is his only reason for forking over 100% of his birthday money. The same is probably true for many adults who may donate $25 to HRH on May 3rd, only to receive the discount shopping pass. The truth is, it doesn’t matter why someone makes their first donation to HRH or any charity, especially children. What matters is that they are introduced to philanthropy at a young age by their parents. The reward will come as they grow older and remember the day their parents empowered them with the ability to make a difference in the life of another. Even if it was because they wanted a prize from HRH’s Giving Tree. Try the challenge in your home. You can’t afford not to invest $25 in your child’s, and this community’s, future. What would your kids do with $25?
By Heather Barrow
My son Hill is in Kindergarten and was born two months prematurely after I spent two months on complete hospital bed rest. Today is the day Hill has been counting down to, and the day I have been dreading. It is the day he was going to board a bus with no seat belts for a three-hour round trip drive to Sea World with a bus driver I have never met.
When the field trip was announced, I said it was a wonderful idea, as long as there would be shoulder seat belts and plenty of chaperons. I offered up my husband Bennett’s services so one of us could be within striking distance of my baby. A couple of weeks ago we heard from his teacher they did not need chaperons, all of the buses with seat belts were unavailable and we could not drive Hill separately. Like many times before with Hill, I went into panic mode. I imagined the worst case scenario and how I could prevent it. What if the bus driver drove recklessly? Does he even have a valid driver’s license? What if it rained? God forbid, but what if they were involved in a bad accident?
My daughter Claire, usually quick to support anything involving Hill being restricted from fun, instead asked why I had never asked her teachers about seat belts for field trips. The only explanation I could come up with is that I approach risks more cautiously with Hill.
Bennett, as he usually does, went in to damage control/crisis prevention mode and started emailing articles on how safe buses are, and why they don’t need seat belts.
I don’t care which bus safety expert wrote the article. If a bus flips over and the children are not restrained, some if not all will be injured. I voiced my concerns to his teachers, and they did everything they could to reserve a bus with seat belts. They even tried to think of a way to bring something to buckle Hill in to the seat somehow (he was mortified.) Unfortunately, the bus company said it wasn’t possible. I reluctantly let him go today after a lot of begging from him and praying from me.
Then I received this photo from his teachers with a note saying that he was buckled in safe and sound. Their repeated requests with the bus company had paid off and they got a bus with seat belts!
I recognize I am overprotective of him and probably the only parent in Kindergarten emailing about seat belts. It takes a village to help raise a preemie with an overprotective mom. I am extremely thankful for how his school village, specifically his teachers Mrs. Paggio and Mrs. Perez, know every detail of Hill’s history, support us without judgment and agree my preemie is precious cargo;) Thank you Mrs. Paggio and Mrs. Perez. Congratulations, you have now been elected to be Hill’s teachers until he turns 18!
By Heather Barrow
February 16th is a day of both celebration and pain for my family. It is the day my water broke in 2009 when I was 24 weeks pregnant with my son Hill. It is also the day our family founded High Risk Hope in 2011. It is no coincidence these pivotal events share the same date. This was a calculated effort on my part to turn the worst day of my life into the best day of each year. The heartbreak and devastation my family felt on this day in 2009 has evolved into great joy for every one of the 3,500+ families touched by High Risk Hope. As I reflect on our accomplishments over the past five years, I can’t help but wonder: what if I had chosen a different path? You face the same question on the choices you have in your life on this day. Whether it is the loss of a job, relationship change or illness in your family, you can turn tragedy into success by conquering these five what if’s:
1. What if I let this negative event consume my life? You may be surprised to hear this, but I believe negative consumption precedes positive outcomes. It took me two full years to get to the point when I was ready to explore the thought of turning our family’s three-month hospitalization into something that could potentially help others. Like more than 60% of families with premature infants, I experienced post traumatic stress disorder as a result our crisis. I could not even drive by the hospital that saved my son’s life, much less walk through the doors to help others. This negativity consumed my life for two years. Only when I made the choice to attempt to turn it around did I begin the healing process. Now I can walk into the hospital with my family and deliver doughnuts to our favorite HROB nurses or HRH bags to patients without breaking into a sweat.
2. What if I do nothing? If you do not make an effort to shift the trajectory of your life then your tomorrows will look a lot like yesterday. Make the choice to do something, knowing that the first step will be the hardest but also the most rewarding. The most difficult thing I have ever done in regards to HRH is having that first conversation with my husband in 2011 telling him the idea. Before I made the jump I wondered, what if he thinks I can’t do it? What if he won’t support me? He not only supported me, he was all in. The person you confide in with your future plans will have the same reaction. You just need to take the first step and tell them.
3. What if I fail? If I let every setback get me down at HRH, we would not have been around for more than a few months. Failures are just one way not to do something. They get you one step closer to success and should be recognized as what they really are, an opportunity for growth. When a donor or corporate sponsor tells me no after I ask for a donation I hear not right now. Many donors who told us no in 2011 are now contacting us asking to join the HRH family. We not only welcome them to the family, we roll out the purple carpet!
4. What if I don’t fail? It sounds counter-intuitive, but the fear of success is often more overwhelming than the fear of failure. HRH’s motto is the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf quote, ‘If your dreams do not scare you they are not big enough.’ If I wake up in the middle of the night at least once a week because of something big we have in the works for HRH, I know we are on the right path. That feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get before something big (a public speech, a promotion, a wedding or a major life change) is the same feeling for every person. It is how you label it that will separate you from being a success or failure. I label that feeling as excitement about an opportunity rather than nervousness and anxiety about a potential failure.
5. What if this is not my life’s purpose? What if it is? The truth is you will never know until you try. Mark Twain said it best, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” For me, February 16th is the day I found out why I was born. If you don’t have the same feeling about a special day, you certainly aren’t here to continue on the path you are currently on. Make today your most important day by taking one step closer to figuring out why you have been put on this Earth.
Dr. Alfonso Vargas
Dr. Vargas graduated from Loyola University of New Orleans with a Biology major. From there he moved on to Flinders University School of Medicine in Australia, where we received his doctorate. He came back to the states and completed his residency in pediatrics at Albany Medical center. He finished a fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine at Louisiana State University Health Science Center- Tulane University.
Dr. Vargas served in the US Air Force. While serving, he traveled to Costa Rica for Humanitarian Medical Readiness Deployment to provide primary care to infants and children. His passion for helping others can also be seen in his trip to Colombia for Operation Smile International.
Dr. Vargas now provides exceptional service as a Neonatologist at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital (SJWH), leading their therapeutic hypothermia program. Dr. Vargas served on the HRH Advisory committee prior to joining the Board of Directors and has been an incredible asset to this community. We are thrilled to welcome him into this new role within the HRH family.
Dr. Lauren Companioni Strahan
Born and raised in South Tampa, Dr. Companioni Strahan attended St. Mary’s Episcopal Day School and continued her education at H.B. Plant High School. She then earned a full gymnastics scholarship to Louisiana State University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and earned 1st Team All American status as a gymnast.
Upon graduating, she attended Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health earning her Doctorate of Dental Medicine as well as serving as Vice President of her class.
The school’s incomparable emphasis on community service, public health dentistry and oral health education provided the best education and dental experience imaginable.
With her passion always being for pediatric dentistry, she then received my Certificate of Pediatric Dentistry from Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, TX after her 2 year residency. At Baylor she gained priceless experience while on staff at three different hospitals as well as working at four different dental clinics in the greater Dallas area.
Although she strayed far from home for her education, her heart never left Tampa, and she always knew she would return.
When she’s not fighting cavities at her dental practice, South Tampa Kids Dental Krewe, she enjoys fishing, exercising, watching college football and any outdoor activity. And on rare occasions, she’s been known to spontaneously do a few flips down hallways – so be on the look out! Most important to her is her family – her niece and nephew have her wrapped around their little fingers -and she loves nothing more than time spent with them and her husband TJ.
After several years of being one of High Risk Hope’s most loyal supporters, Dr. Lauren has transitioned on to the Board of Directors. High Risk Hope is thrilled to see all of the wonderful things she will bring to this organization and the families we serve.
Amelia was born and raised in Tampa, Fla. She attended St. Mary’s Episcopal Day School before moving on to H.B. Plant High School. Her love for volunteering started in high school as she helped at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Easter Seals. After graduating from high school, she attended The University of Alabama and received her BA in public relations. While attending college, she volunteered at the preschool at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. After graduating this past May, she completed a marketing internship with Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
Amelia began volunteering with High Risk Hope in August while completing her internship. She could be found in the office completing different task, such as helping in the stock room or editing different print materials. She helped with the latest Tot Trot in our High Risk Hope tent.
Amelia is excited about her new position and the opportunity to reach out into the community and find more people to be involved with High Risk Hope’s great mission.
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Bailey attended Wake Forest University where she met her husband and Tampa-native, Richard. Bailey has worked and volunteered in the non-profit sector in the Tampa Bay Area since 2006, most recently as the Membership and Marketing Coordinator at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. She has also worked for the Tampa General Hospital Foundation and the Dali Museum, as well as volunteered with The Straz Center for the Performing Arts and The Junior League of Tampa. She holds her BA in Religion from Wake Forest University and her MA in Arts Administration from Columbia University.
Bailey was introduced to High Risk Hope when on bed rest at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital while pregnant with her twins. After doctors successfully halted her pre-term labor at 28 weeks, she remained at SJWH for four weeks on hospital bed rest. Her twins were born just shy of 35 weeks, delivered due to severe preeclampsia. Following a two week stay in the NICU, twins Henry and Nora came home healthy. Bailey notes that, “High Risk Hope supported me throughout my pregnancy and NICU stay, inspiring me to become a volunteer delivering Bed Rest Baskets and NICU Napsacks. During my time volunteering with High Risk Hope, I was continually impressed by the organization’s unique support of women on hospital bed rest and its passionate volunteers and donors.”
Bailey is thrilled about the opportunity to join this inspiring organization and even more excited to take an integral role in helping High Risk Hope expand its event and fundraising efforts in order to reach more families in crisis.
By Heather Barrow
Last week the flood of emotions that surround the time before and after medical test results for my child came rushing back to me. My daughter Claire has been having severe headaches most of the summer, often in the middle of the night, and our pediatrician ordered an MRI and neurologist consult. This is the same pediatrician that has been with us through the ups and downs of my hospital bed rest and Hill’s premature birth and childhood development. She is the best of the best and not one to unnecessarily sound alarm bells. So the fact that she said MRI, neurologist and Claire in one sentence sent me into sheer panic mode. As I reflect over what I did right and wrong over the past seven days with Claire, and every time Hill has had a serious test, I wanted to share five ways to keep your sanity through your child’s medical test results:
1. Research the test not the outcomes. Do. Not. Google. Symptoms. Trust me on this one and if you want to learn from my mistake, Google “MRI early morning headaches”. When I saw what popped up I could not breathe much less focus on preparing Claire for the MRI. After my husband Bennett calmed me down, I went back to Google and found some very helpful age appropriate videos geared towards children and their first MRI. I was able to research the risks of MRIs in children, which vary by age and whether or not the child has to be sedated. In addition to having Claire watch the videos, we talked to her about the test and what it might show that could help manage her headaches.
2. Call in favors if you can. When our pediatrician told us the MRI scheduler would contact us ‘soon’ to schedule the test, I imagined soon really meant we would be waiting a while to actually have the MRI. I know myself well enough to recognize my shelf life of not knowing if my child has a potentially serious condition is around 48 hours. After that I cannot promise I will not completely lose it. Luckily Bennett was able to speed up the process by reaching out to a friend who arranged for Claire to fill a cancelled appointment the next day. We rarely do this but desperate parents call for desperate measures.
3. Consult with your village. Everyone has a handful of people in their lives they call for advice on medical issues. For unknown reasons, I am that person for some of my friends (maybe not after this blog). For me, I reached out to several people including a friend who was once a nurse practitioner for a pediatric neurologist. She also happens to be a fellow preemie mom who has always helped with Hill’s medical issues. She didn’t sugar coat what was going on but calmed me down and gave me a step-by-step plan on how to move forward as opposed to remaining frozen with fear.
4. Keep your child’s teacher in the loop. At the suggestion of Claire’s pediatrician, we told her teacher and school nurse what was going on. If she takes ibuprofen and lies down for a few minutes at the first hint of a headache, it is much less severe. At first I hesitated to cause this type of inconvenience for the school but realized that it was best for Claire. If we picked the right school for our children, they would support us. One week and half-dozen headaches later, they are happily working with us until we can figure this out.
5. Visualize the best. When your child is ill and you don’t know why, it is extremely difficult to not let your mind go to the dark place of thinking it is caused by a serious illness. I took my own advice this week that I have said to friends countless times: you will be the first to know when something is seriously wrong. Stressing and obsessing over the ‘what ifs’ is pointless and could have a negative impact on your own health. Visualizing that your child will be fine won’t change the outcome but it will bridge the gap between today and the day of the test results.
By the time the MRI scheduler called to make Claire’s appointment we already had the test results. Thankfully, her scan was completely clear of any scary health issues that could have caused her headaches. We can now shift our focus to figuring out what is causing them and finding a long-term solution.