Obstetrician creates nonprofit to provide emotional and financial support for families with babies fighting for survival in NICUs
He was still in his scrubs when he arrived for our interview at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
He was running late and on two hours sleep after just delivering a baby at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns in Kearny Mesa. But as we walked through the garden to the patio restaurant for a coffee, he paused briefly to take a close-up photo of a flower in the morning sunlight with his cell phone.
After all, his mother recently told him he should take more time to smell the roses — or at least photograph the daisies.
“I’m trying to do that,” he confided.
During the past decade as a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist in San Diego, Dr. Sean Daneshmand, 42, has delivered, he estimates, “thousands” of babies and most recently founded a nonprofit called Miracle Babies that is striving to become the nation’s premier organization providing emotional and financial support to low income families of babies born prematurely and hospitalized in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).
Daneshmand was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both of his parents are from Iran. They had met and married while they were undergraduates at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His father was studying for his master’s degree in civil engineering at Louisiana State University. “And that’s where they had me,” Daneshmand chuckled to relate how he came to be born in Baton Rouge.
“Then we went to Iran where I lived from the age of 4 until I was 10-and-a- half,” he said.
His father was a successful civil engineer raising his family in Iran when the Iranian Revolution erupted in 1979 resulting in the overthrow of the monarchy under the Shah and its sudden conversion to an Islamic republic under the Muslim religious leader and politician Ayatollah Khomeini.
“We walked into school,” Daneshmand recalled, “and suddenly boys were segregated from the girls and pages were torn out of our history books. They ripped out whole sections of text. I came home and said ‘Dad, look at our history book. I remember my Dad looked at my mother and said, ‘We’re leaving.’
“And that’s what happened. We just closed the doors. They [the authorities] took everything we had. Everything. We went to Rome. My sister and I went to an international school there. Then to Brighton in England where my uncle, who is a psychiatrist, lives. And finally my parents decided to return to the States.”
The family settled in Los Angeles.
Asked what drew him to study medicine, he said: “I don’t know. I just loved it. Whenever I walked into a hospital, I just got chills. I knew I wanted to be a physician at a very young age.”
In high school and college, he did hospital volunteer work as a “transporter,” wheeling patients from one area of the hospital to another.
“I went to Beverly Hills High School and UCLA for my undergrad, majoring in kinesiology, (the scientific study of human movement and its application to human health), which was a great major in preparation for medical school.”
He earned his medical degree at New York Medical College, Valhalla, N.Y., in 1995.
Initially, he intended to become a vascular surgeon. In his fourth year in medical school, he did a sub-internship rotation at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in vascular surgery and trauma surgery. “And I hated it…I just didn’t fit in,” he said. A friend suggested he do a two-week rotation in maternal-fetal medicine. He did, discovered that he liked it and followed up with a month-long rotation in gynecology.
That was it. He had found his specialization pathway.
He did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA; and, in 1999, came to San Diego for a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at UCSD’s Department of Reproductive Medicine, which he completed in 2002 and entered a group practice at the San Diego Perinatal Center.
Maternal-fetal medicine specialists, called perinatologists, focus on the medical and surgical management of high risk pregnancies and preterm births.
A preterm or premature birth is one in which a child is born before the 37-week full term gestation and before the fetal development is normally sufficient to allow for life outside the womb without assistance. Premature babies typically spend their first days or weeks in incubators, on ventilators and in NICUs.
In the U.S., prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal deaths with a mortality rate of 25 percent.
It’s stressful enough for a woman to deliver a baby prematurely, Daneshmand said, it’s even tougher when she can’t afford to take time off work or to buy gas to drive and visit her baby daily in an NICU as the infant struggles through its first few precarious weeks of its life,
“And women are strong,” he added. “Women are really incredible. This practice has increased my respect for women so much more because I see them at one of the toughest times in their lives…Everyone wants a very healthy pregnancy and many times that doesn’t happen.”
Moved by the tears of one of his patients whose husband was laid-off work and she was faced with the prospect of not being able to afford time off from her job to visit her daughter in the NICU, he thought, ‘That’s it. It’s time to get off my butt, and do something to help,’” he recalled.
“So I called 14 former patients (volunteers) and some co-workers, met with them on a Saturday in my office, and the concept of Miracle Babies was born.”
Since its inception in 2009, Miracle Babies has helped more than 500 families of NICU preemies, providing everything from baby supplies and rent assistance to sibling childcare and gas vouchers.
Eligible families are referred to Miracle Babies by social workers.
“We give assistance based on the estimated length of a baby’s stay in a NICU and the family’s debt and income. To qualify, a baby’s NICU stay has to be a minimum of two weeks. We give grants of up $2, 500,” Daneshmand said.
“If you want to be able to help others, you have to drop your ego. I think ego is probably our own worst enemy, too much ego. You have to realize that every person deserves a good chance in life. I believe we’ve come to this world to really enjoy the abundance of it all, to enjoy looking at these flowers, looking at this scenario; this is beautiful; enjoy my cup of coffee with you. It’s our duty and responsibility to not only live well, but to give back.”
His own daughter, Natalie, now almost 7, was born prematurely at 34 weeks gestation through a Caesarian section after complications in his wife’s pregnancy.
“And thank God, everything was fine,” he said. His daughter did not require treatment in a NICU.
Daneshmand envisions establishing Miracle Babies’ programs nationwide.
Most recently, with a $410,000 grant, Miracle Babies launched a two-year demonstration nutrition-and-gym program called “Healthy Mothers for Healthy Children” that will focus on 50 low-income women each year who are overweight or obese and are at risk of pre-term delivery and other health complications.
Miracle Babies will hold its third annual fundraising ‘5K Walk/Run’ on Sunday, Nov. 13, at Mariner’s Point.
Additional information on Miracle Babies is available at its Website: www.miraclebabies.org
Sean Daneshmand, M.D.
Dr. Daneshmand is an obstetrician/gynecologist and specialist in maternal-fetal medicine out of Sharp Hospital. He is also the founder of Miracle Babies, a nonprofit organization providing counseling and financial support to the families of premature babies.
Rancho Santa Fe
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 42 years ago
B.S. degree in kinesiology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1991; M.D., New York Medical College, Valhalla, N.Y., 1995; residency in obstetrics and gynecology, UCLA, 1999; Fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine, UCSD, Department of Reproductive Medicine, 2002.
He and his wife, Marjan (nee Mortazavi), a bankruptcy attorney, have one daughter, Natalie, 6.
Tennis and swimming and walking on local beaches.
“Fundamentals of Yoga: A Handbook of Theory, Practice and Appreciation,” by Rammurti S. Mishra and Shri Brahmanada Sarasvati.
The classic “Gone with the Wind”
“One thing that unites all of us is children. We all love children. My philosophy is everything we do has to be selfless. Our focus has to be how we make this world a better place for the younger generation … and the common goal has to be for the good of others.”