In the news
Night of Lights Award Winner 2009
Excellence in Board Leadership
Check out some articles written about the success and progress at the Low Birth Weight Development Center
- Dallas Center Takes Family Approach To Helping Low Birth Weight BabiesSubmitted on April 19, 2007 - 5:20pm. Michaela Jackson - Spring 2007
Monica Ramos' voice quivers when she talks about her daughter's birth, five weeks premature, two years ago in Dallas. Little Mariela weighed just 2 pounds. Doctors were unable to explain her prematurity.
"It's very difficult to talk about it," said Ramos, 25. "It's very difficult to remember about how the baby was born and my feelings. It was very hard."
Through a friend who also had a premature baby, Ramos heard about a program that could help her daughter grow and provide support for her as a mother.
The Low Birth Weight Development Center in Dallas is a unique program that reaches out to mothers like Ramos when their babies are still in the neonatal intensive care unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital. It follows up with home visits, offering developmental services to both parents and children. While most major cities have low birth weight health clinics, the director of the Dallas center said he knew of none like his that included help for both babies and parents.
Infants and toddlers are cared for six hours a day in a nursery, working toward individual development goals.
"Because each preemie is different, we can't generalize," said Lucy Toye, director of the day care center.
The children also participate in normal childhood activities such as Easter egg hunts and morning snack time. This helps to keep them from feeling isolated, Toye said.
While their children are learning, mothers receive instruction in English, job skills, computer literacy and GED preparation. Evening support groups are also available for fathers, who discuss domestic violence and father-child relationships.
"We're very strong on literacy - family literacy, in particular," said Rick Davis, the center's director. "We read to the children every day, we encourage their parents to read to them every day.
"We realize in order for parents to provide for all of the needs of these vulnerable toddlers and infants, they're going to need to be able to find gainful employment and be able to provide," he said. "Whether it's job skills training or GED preparation, we want to help them optimize their outcomes."
Ramos said that, during her time in the three-year program, she's learned English, as well as basic health and life skills. She said she's also seen a change in her daughter.
"She learns a lot, she's more active, she's more friendly, also. It's very good for her and for me," Ramos said.
Ramos has also formed relationships with other mothers in the program, something program staff members said is not uncommon. The clinic provides transportation to and from mass transit stations, but many of the mothers have organized carpools, Davis said.
A central goal of the program is to prevent mothers from having a second low birth weight child.
"I think we have to educate these young teenagers on exactly what the risk factors are. ... We have to preach abstinence, I think, number one, but if that doesn't work, we've got to be able to educate them in terms of what the risk factors are and make certain that they understand that," Davis said.
Those risk factors, Davis said, include race, socioeconomic level, smoking, abuse of over-the-counter drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, a lack of prenatal vitamins and a failure to visit with the physician during pregnancy.
Davis said he is proud to be involved in the clinic's work and believes it has made a great difference since it was established in 1992. In 14 years, he said, there is no story more compelling than the others.
"We find that a lot of our mothers are depressed, that they have family or domestic violence issues, that they don't have the attachment to their babies that they should, and so we get an opportunity to impact those things," he said.
Toye, the program's day care director, found herself involved in the cause partly for personal reasons. Her 13-year-old son was 6 pounds 11 ounces and was born at 35 weeks. He didn't have the ability to suck - it would take him two hours to nurse 10 minutes worth of milk. He quickly lost weight, and remains small for his age.
Toye herself weighed just 4 pounds when she was born in 1963. The center would have made a vast difference in her son's young life and in her own life as a mother, she said.
"The support would have been wonderful because I felt very isolated," she said.
"He had respiratory issues, and I was doing breathing treatments around the clock every four hours, so I was also very much sleep deprived, between feeding and breathing. I did that for 36 to 48 months."
A critical part of the program's mission, Toye said, is preparing parents to handle the stress of a special needs child.
"We're also teaching the parents how to handle the crisis," she said.
"If it becomes a long-term situation like it is with my son, it's just the way life is and you go on, and you can become - like he is - a regular teenager, with orchestra and choir and doing everything else seventh graders are supposed to be doing," Toye said. "My goal is to see all these kids become regular seventh graders."
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire1090 Vermont Ave. N.W. - Suite 1000Washington, D.C. 20005Phone: 202-408-2748Fax: 202-682-2143
- Center Gives Low-Birth-Weight Babies Early BoostOak Cliff: Therapy, Classes Help Families Cope With New Additions12:00 AM CST on Saturday, February 3, 2007By JENNI BEAUCHAMP / The Dallas Morning Newsjbeauchamp@dallasnews.com
When Lucy Toye started as the new day care director for the Low Birth Weight Development Center in Oak Cliff, she knew her personal qualifications made her a perfect fit for the position.
JIM MAHONEY/DMNIrene Sanchez cares for 7-month-old Alex Dominguez at the Low Birth Weight Development Center, which aims to improve babies' development and parents' financial footing.Not only was her 13-year-old son born premature, but Mrs. Toye was a premature baby herself.
As the new day care director of the center, Mrs. Toye says she hopes to make it easier for children to adjust early in life.
"I feel like I can help level the playing field because I know what the expectations are," she said. "We are catching them up early so that they are all equal in the fourth grade and they can get on the basketball court or football field with everyone else.
"Our main mission is to help children meet developmental milestones," she added. "And to help parents get back on a stable financial and economic level."
Mrs. Toye remembers the pressures and stress that came with having a low-birth-weight baby and her family's financial struggles as a result.
"I have experienced having six weeks of occupational therapy and then being dropped" by her insurance company, she said. "I experienced being told that 'we cannot help him.' "
"Things like this were not available, and I wished they were," she said. "I would have liked to have had support."
The center offers an in-house computer literacy class and an English as a second language program in conjunction with El Centro College. In addition, the center also offers individual and group therapy sessions for parents while the children learn to develop basic skills.
"If we can get the mom stable and she can get her GED, then she is able to get a job and the baby is able to grow if the family is economically stable," Mrs. Toye said.
The children and the parents graduate after a three-year program that ends with the parent getting a GED.
The 5,200-square-foot center opened on Oct. 16 at 345 Calumet Ave. in west Oak Cliff, a few hundred feet from the previous center. The new facility is more than four times the size of the old one and houses four classrooms, three offices, a kitchen and a playground designed especially for fragile, low-birth-weight children.
It is open to families from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each Monday and Wednesday.
Executive Director Rick Davis says he hopes the move will help the center continue to grow.
"It was terribly important. It was critical in order for us to expand our programs and increase the number of infants and toddlers and moms and dads that we serve."
Most of the mothers who come to the center are Hispanic teenagers, speak English as a second language and have incomes below federal poverty levels, said Director of Fund Development Lin Orrin.
Ms. Orrin says that the center hopes to start a "sliding scale fee" for families that can pay for a portion of the services, but at this time, none of the families fall into that category. It costs about $1,630 a day for the services the center provides, she said.
"We have statistics that show that people who access the center make $12,000 to $14,000 a year," said Ms. Orrin.
The center receives funding from the March of Dimes, United Way research grants and individual donors. But Mr. Davis says additional resources are needed.
"We need operating funds to continue expanding our program," said Mr. Davis. "We are going to need to transition our staff from part time to full time so that we can have a full-week schedule. That will require additional dollars. That is the most significant priority at this point."
- SMALL MIRACLE- Low Birth Weight Center Makes Difference In Lives Of Moms, BabiesCatholic Texas Friday, January 19, 2007 By Anna Macias DALLAS. Claudia Garcia, an immigrant from Honduras, was only 17 and alone when she gave birth to a premature baby two years ago. To her, life looked bleak for her son and for herself.
“I never thought my baby would be born so tiny,” she said. “I went into shock and even some depression. He was hospitalized for a month. He was attached to so many wires that were keeping him alive. There were moments when he’d improve and moments when he worsened.” Garcia’s son, Jonathan, had respiratory problems and is still treated for asthma today. The toddler appears to be thriving and Garcia also has experienced positive changes. The young mother has gained emotional support, parenting skills and a jolt to her self esteem with the help of the staff at the Low Birth Weight Development Center, a non-profit organization with Catholic roots. Garcia, who dropped out of sixth grade in her own country, is learning English and computer skills. She is preparing to earn a high school diploma by exam and she aspires to attend college. “What has helped me the most is the individual and group counseling,” Garcia said. “I’ve gained a lot from interacting with other mothers who also have tiny babies because I realize that I’m not alone in the challenges I’ve faced. I now have new goals. Ultimately, I would like to have a career so that I can set a good example for my son.” The Low Birth Weight Development Center was started in 1992 by pediatrician Roy J. Heyne and his wife Elizabeth, a pediatric physician assistant, using a grant from CIGNA Healthplan of Dallas. The Heynes, themselves parents of eight children, had been moved by the homeless children they encountered and, in 1975, started a low birth weight clinic at Children’s Medical Center. In 1985, they sought help from retired Dallas Bishop Thomas Tschoepe in asking Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to start a home in Dallas to serve the most vulnerable of patients, premature or low birth weight babies. Once the Missionaries of Charity Home was established here, it became clear that home and medical care was not enough to ensure that the babies thrived. The outcome of a preemie’s life depends largely upon the educational level and parenting abilities of the baby’s mother, so the Heynes accepted a $20,000 grant from CIGNA and started a very unique psychosocial program now in its fourteenth year, the Low Birth Weight Development Center, to help improve the parental attention and stimulation that such babies receive. Dr. Rick Davis, director of the Low Birth Weight Development Center, said the program’s goal is to help narrow the developmental gap between a premature infant and peers born at normal weight. “We try to expose the babies to neurological stimulation and day-to-day activities that will stimulate their brains so that they’re able to grow developmentally like their peers who are not low birth weight,” Davis said. What started as a “mothers’ day in” program serving eight moms and their infants now serves hundreds of mothers and their babies. Last fall, the program expanded to a newly constructed building, the Crystal Charity Ball Low Birth Weight Development Center on the campus of Santa Clara Parish. It is housed in a 5,200-square-foot building with classrooms, a computer lab, infant care rooms and offices. The facility, which cost $825,000, benefited from money raised by the Crystal Charity Ball as well as donations by numerous individuals and foundations. Dallas Bishop Charles V. Grahmann has shown his support of the program in the past by leasing space to the non-profit for only $1 a year and by allowing the new center to be on the campus of Santa Clara. Support also has come through the Catholic Foundation, which donates money that is used to provide home visits to families of preemies. Twice a week mothers and babies visit the center for counseling, art therapy, English and computer classes. While the mothers attend classes to improve their own academic skills, their infants are given therapeutic care in a separate room. Mothers can watch their babies through a one-way mirror as the trained caregivers engage the babies in activities that stimulate their minds. “Our goal is to model positive and effective interactions with the baby,” said Lin Orrin, development director for the program. “Part of that might be talking with the child, playing with the child, reading or storytelling. We want to encourage bonding with an adult.” The education the parents receive is critical because many of the parents have little education and live in poverty, Orrin said. On average, the mothers have an educational level of third to eighth grade. Many are immigrants from Latin America who are not literate even in Spanish. “For them, having a low birth weight baby is even more difficult than for someone who has more resources,” Orrin said. “Lots of times, the mothers might even be afraid to touch the baby. Most of our babies are less than 2.5 pounds at birth. Some of them have feeding tubes and other care that needs to be continued at home when they are released from the neonatal intensive care unit.” Davis said another big challenge for the families is ensuring that the babies gain the appropriate amount of weight. “We want to make sure the mother is doing well emotionally and psychologically. We want to make sure she is able to take care of the infant the way the infant needs to be taken care of.” As the mother of six, Juana Guerra thought she knew all there was to know about infant care. Then, six months ago, her seventh child was born weighing in only at two pounds, twelve ounces. Little Alex Dominguez was clinging to life in the intensive care unit for nearly three months. “It’s horrible to see your baby so helpless and defenseless, connected to so many wires,” Guerra said, recalling her son’s days in the hospital. “Sometimes you leave the hospital feeling inconsolable. You want to do something for your baby, like nurse them, but you can’t because they are so tiny.” Guerra, a member of St. James Parish in Dallas, said she is thankful that the Low Birth Weight Development Center has helped her family cope with the challenges of having a preemie. Now that her son weighs 12 pounds and appears healthy, she feels positive about his future.For Guerra who advocates the Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life, “babies are life. “Many people think the babies don’t feel or think anything. But they do. It’s amazing to watch them as they fight for their own lives. They react to your voice and your touch. They feel our love and support and they have an incredible way of expressing it.” (Anna Macias is a free-lance writer who lives in Dallas).TC Online 2007