Organization supports families with babies in neonatal intensive care
Dr. Sean S. Daneshmand’s father was a civil engineer.
Not surprisingly, Dad tried to light a passion in his son for building projects. The boy had other ideas.
“I used to get goosebumps when I walked into hospitals,” Denashmand said in a recent interview. “I don’t know what triggered that.”
The Rancho Santa Fe resident recalls, however, that he did have many family members involved in medicine in his parents’ home country of Iran. Whatever the reason for his obsession, Daneshmand pursued a medical career, becoming an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Now, he is recognized as one of the San Diego region’s top specialists for high-risk pregnancies. He is medical director of Scripps Clinic’s maternal-fetal program and is based at Scripps Memorial La Jolla.
“It’s been life circumstances that brought me where I am,” Daneshmand said.
He added that during his studies and internships, he developed a fascination with birth, and perinatal/neonatal health.
A singular accomplishment in Daneshmand’s career was his establishment of the organization Miracle Babies a decade ago. The nonprofit is dedicated to supporting mothers and families of infants born prematurely or with illnesses that require them to remain hospitalized after birth.
“It was during the time of the recession,” Daneshmand said, referring to the national economic decline that started around 2007-08. “At that time, very few hospitals could take care of premature or sick newborns at their sites.
“Moms would have to be transported to Scripps Mary Birch (hospital) or UCSD (medical center).”
Those were the San Diego hospitals with neonatal intensive care units. Such units provide acute care and treatment to infants whose survival is precarious following delivery.
As a result, family members, and especially mothers, are forced to leave their babies in the hospital while they strive for full health. Parents and relatives are encouraged to spend as much time with their little ones as possible at the NICU sites.
”We realized that many of the moms were not visiting their babies in NICU because of travel issues,” Daneshmand said. “We realized that there was a serious need for a mom to be with her sick child.”
According to the nonprofit’s website, miraclebabies.org, “Miracle Babies provides financial and emotional support so families can be with their critically ill babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, thereby reducing the babies’ stress and changing health outcomes.”
Over the years, with extensive volunteer help, the program has expanded to include care packages and onsite “Miracle Hours” for parents at NICUs throughout the area. The hours include education, activities and interaction among mothers, as well as other supportive activities.
Leslee Malesza, the mother of twins born last August, said the foremost benefit to her of Miracle Babies was meeting other moms who were going through what she was experiencing.
“Miracle Babies was kind of my safe place,” she said. “I went to one of the Miracle Babies events and met two really sweet mothers who became my friends. Having a community of women who were going through what I was going through was a big deal.”
Malesza confronts special challenges because while her twin daughter was born healthy, her twin brother was diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, an underdeveloped jaw and a cleft palate.
After the twins were born in Grossmont Medical Center, Malesza was able to bring her daughter, Charlotte, home, but her son, David, was whisked away to Mary Birch and then the adjacent Rady Children’s Hospital, where he underwent an operation on his jaw.
The mother was unable to bring David home until last month, forcing her and her husband to spend much time at the hospitals, where they encountered the Miracle Babies program.
“It was really a lifesaver,” Malesza said. “I didn’t realize what I needed until I sat through the Miracle Babies’ Miracle Hour and realized that it was okay to be vulnerable, to connect with people and share our stories about what was going on.”
Malesza, who already had three children before the birth of the twins, was so impressed that she has vowed to become a volunteer with Miracle Babies once she is more settled in caring for the newborns.
The success of the program has led to its expansion to hospitals in Orange County, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Tijuana.
Yet, Daneshmand believes Miracle Babies has fulfilled only a scintilla of its potential.
“We’re just not doing enough right now,” he said. “We’re not there yet. We need to keep doing more. ... I want every woman, regardless of her background, to have the opportunity to love her child the same way I love my own.”
That means maximizing the time mothers can spend with their offspring when the latter are isolated in NICUs.
Daneshmand emphasizes the burgeoning findings of epigenetics, the study of the influence of environment on an individual’s genes.
“The younger the child is, the more impact it has on their DNA,” he said. “Before, it made sense to have parents there (with their babies) from a social standpoint.
“Now, science has shown us that (presence) matters significantly. ... If there is no love, no interaction between the parents and their children, they’re going to be messed up one way or another.”
To that end, Daneshmand said Miracle Babies is pursuing alliances with many more hospitals.
“We need to be everywhere,” he said. “We need to be in hospitals through the United States because there are a lot of families who are not seeing their newborns as often as they need to.”
Miracle Babies continues its fundraising efforts with the following events:
March 3, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at La Valencia Hotel, La Jolla — Breakfast at Tiffany’s 2020, including hosted cocktail hour, raffle prizes, program and brunch.
May 31, 7 a.m. to noon, at NTC Park, Liberty Station, San Diego — Miracle Babies Superhero 5K, including run/walk, family fun, kids zone.
Visit miraclebabies.org for more information.