By Karen Billing
When their daughter Natalie was born six-weeks premature in December 2002, Rancho Santa Fe resident Marjan Daneshmand considers herself “blessed” that she was as well equipped as one could be for such an unexpected and stressful birth.
Her husband Sean is a perinatologist (a high-risk obstetrician), all of her family lived in San Diego for a solid support system and they had the financial means to deal with the unexpected costs of a premature baby and a stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
For many families though, a premature birth can come with overwhelming physical, mental and financial challenges. With Sean knowing firsthand what some families go through in his experiences with high-risk pregnancies and Marjan having gone through her own scare, the couple founded the non-profit Miracle Babies in 2009.
The organization aims to provide support and help families meet their basic expenses and avert financial disaster due to a stay in the NICU. Miracle Babies is able to help — on average — 25 families a month, serving a population that is unfortunately growing.
More than 500,000 babies are born preterm in the United States and the number of preterm births have increased by 30 percent since 1980.
Due to her husband’s specialty, Marjan knew she could go to Sean whenever she felt anything that seemed weird. On one such occasion, where she was feeling weird contractions at 30 weeks, her husband suggested they check her out with an ultrasound.
“I will never forget the look on his face,” Marjan said. “I could tell he was scared and that it was something serious.”
Marjan was admitted to the hospital for 12 days due to a placental abruption, a very rare condition that can be fatal for the baby. She was closely monitored until she went into early labor with Natalie and had to undergo an emergency C-section.
“It was pretty traumatic,” Marjan said, of the neo-natal team waiting to immediately put Natalie on a breathing tube.
Fortunately, Natalie only had to spend one day in the NICU and Marjan spent five days in the hospital.
“I was lucky that when the baby was born she was at my side and I was able to hold her,” Marjan said.
She knows many mothers are not able to hold their child when they are born premature and even though she experienced the NICU just briefly, she saw how emotional it can be and how helpless a parent can feel about that “little life.”
An extreme financial hardship can be loaded on top of the emotional stress of having a child in the NICU.
Medical costs through the first year of life are approximately 11 times higher for a preterm versus a full-term baby. A baby can spend up to three months in the NICU and if a working parent has to miss work to be with their newborn, they might not be able to afford their usual living expenses.
Miracle Babies programs include family assistance for necessary items such as medical equipment, prescription medicines and formula, supplies, sibling childcare, living expenses and transportation.
Daneshmand recalls one mother who lived in Temecula and was only able to visit her baby once a week because she couldn’t afford gas.
One story that Daneshmand can “never forget” is Miracle Babies mother Veronica Pacheco, who became ill with the H1N1 virus ( Swine Flu) and went into a coma while pregnant. The baby was delivered 10 weeks before full term through an emergency C-section. Pacheco’s son, Noah, weighed less than 3 pounds.
When she awoke, Pacheco didn’t even realize she had the baby and feared the worst. Her family was able to have a little breathing room financially and be there for their child.
“Miracle Babies made it possible for me to kiss my soon goodbye every night and it is because of them that I could lay my head down at night and sleep,” said Pacheco.
“They are an incredible family,” said Daneshmand. “When she talks about what they suffered, what they went through, I have tears in my eyes when I listen to it.”
Miracle Babies also places a focus on prevention with a new program called Healthy Women for Healthy Children, a partnership with the YMCA. The program provides weight education and management to help mitigate the risk factors and negative consequences of obesity on both the mother and child.
“We’re very excited to be a partner with this program. My husband is very concerned with health and healthy eating,” Daneshmand said.
In addition to being a mother and a philanthropist, Daneshmand also has a legal career. Daneshmand and her family moved to San Diego from Iran in 1982. She attended Torrey Pines High School, UC San Diego and earned her law degree from California Western School of Law and for the past 15 years has been a practicing attorney at the Bankruptcy Legal Group, specializing in bankruptcy law and debt negotiation.
In 2005, the Daneshmands also opened a medical spa, Ageless and Beautiful, in Hillcrest. Sean, who works primarily at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital, serves as the medical director for the spa and Marjan handles the day-to-day management of the business.
“I’m busy but I really enjoy what I do. I love being an attorney but at the same time, work is not everything. It’s important to be able to give back to the community,” Daneshmand said. “Miracle Babies is really my passion…My husband and I couldn’t have imagined Miracle Babies would become as big as it has become.”
Miracle Babies has also created a family network, where families who have spent time in NICU can connect, create friendships, offer support to one another and raise awareness about the NICU experience.
To help these families, Miracle Babies relies on donations and community support. Their two biggest fundraising events are a Miracle Babies 5K and a Casino Night in August.
The first year of the 5K they had 1,000 attendees and it has grown every year. This year’s Moms 5K for Healthy Babies will be held on May 11 at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
Daneshmand has taken on the busy task of chairing the walk for the past four years but this year has handed it off.
“I’m going to be able to actually walk it this year, I’m excited,” Daneshmand said.
Her hope is that there will be Miracle Babies chapters all over the country (already there is a chapter in Atlanta) and they will reach a point when they are all walking on the same day.
In this tough economy, applications for help from Miracle Babies has grown. They went from about five applications in one month to now reviewing 50-60 applications every month.
“We worry about making sure the funding is there to be able to help these families,” Daneshmand said. “My goal is to get more support from the community to help us expand.”
To donate, get involved or sign up for one of the upcoming events, visit