Healthy Start Program Helps Mom-to-Be Build Strong Support System


Posted on Sep 18, 2018

Mom Katie with son Jahani
Mom Katie with son Jahani

Katie sat in a women’s seminar at her church. She’d had a stillborn baby a few years before and didn’t have the support she knew she needed.

The seminar leader told Katie about a program called Healthy Start. Katie didn’t quite know what she was getting into but decided to see if this program could help her.

Nearly three years later, Katie, 27, has a happy, healthy 6-month-old son named Jahani and a firmly-rooted support system.

The Healthy Start program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s helped Katie build that support system. The program works with women and families in Pinellas County, helping them navigate through issues and challenges that can affect their health and the health of their baby.

Healthy Start’s case management team helps women make sure they have access to quality medical care for themselves and their babies, that they have all the materials and knowledge they need to care for a new baby, and sometimes just provide a listening ear, letting participants know they aren’t alone.

It’s all with a mind toward reducing disparities in maternal and child health that contribute to infant mortality in Pinellas County. The Healthy Start team works with women and families to ensure access to community-based, culturally-sensitive and family-centered health and social services. They work primarily in communities throughout Pinellas County where the infant mortality rate is at least 1.5 times the national average.

Community health worker Jana Richardson has been working with Katie since she was referred to the program in 2015. Especially after having a stillborn, Katie wanted to be as healthy as possible so she could have another baby. Richardson connected her with resources to help her physical health, as well as her mental and emotional health.

Katie became pregnant again but had a miscarriage early in her pregnancy. She was devastated, and her doctor said it was unlikely she’d ever have a baby, that cysts she had would make it difficult. Richardson was there for her, and helped her through the grieving process, Katie says. She also connected her with a fertility clinic that could offer more insight into the difficulties she’d had with her pregnancies.

“Jana helped a lot. She knew I really wanted to have a baby, but after the miscarriage, I’d given up a little,” Katie says. “She reminded me it was nothing I did or didn’t do, and that it would be my time soon.”

With Richardson’s support, Katie focused on other goals for a while. She already was working full time and decided to start school again, studying public health at St. Petersburg College. Richardson was planning to close her case in January 2017 when Katie shared the news—she was again pregnant.

She had some struggles with her health during her pregnancy with Jahani, Richardson says, but she stayed positive. Katie also has a blood disorder that causes her arms to be shorter due to missing part of the radius bones in the forearm, which can affect use of the limbs. Katie also took classes that Healthy Start offered on topics like breastfeeding and safe sleep, so she’d be well prepared once Jahani arrived.

“I’ve seen her grow as a young woman from someone who was very nervous and anxious, to being an advocate for herself,” Richardson says. “A lot of people, and Katie in particular, face so many challenges and are told they can’t do certain things, that they aren’t good enough. Breaking that mold reinforces for me what I do every day.”

And it’s more than a job for Richardson. She was also a Healthy Start client when she was pregnant with her youngest son in 2011, when she and her family were receiving support from the WIC Nutrition Program—a stressful time, she says.

Healthy Start helped her make sure she had what she’d need to care for a new baby. Her case worker was also there to talk with her about the spiritual matters that were important to her, and helped her deal with depression. She remained with Healthy Start until her son was 6 months old.

The case worker later suggested that Richardson, who was working with an HIV/AIDS health and advocacy organization, apply for an open position with Healthy Start.

“Someone helped me through a difficult time. I wanted to give back to women who were also facing a difficult time,” Richardson says. “It makes me proud and happy to see Katie grow.”

Jahani’s growing, too. He’s rolling, crawling, and doing all the things an active 6-month-old does. Being a mom is scary, Katie says. She never wants to fail her son, and wants to always be healthy enough to see him grow up.

There are sleepless nights, of course, but Jahani’s mom and dad stay focused on providing their son with unconditional love. “His dad is a great supporter,” Katie says, “he never left my side.”

“I’m just trying to keep working and going to school—juggling life as a mom with Jahani—to make our future even better,” she says.

Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/HealthyStart to learn more about the Healthy Start program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.