We did it… and by we, I mean ADHS and partners around the state.  We accepted the Association of Territorial and State Health Officers (ASTHO) challenge to reduce the rate of babies born too early by 8% by 2014.  On Friday, ADHS and the March of Dimes Arizona Chapter received the Virginia Apgar award.  The Arizona Perinatal Trust was recognized for their work as well.

We celebrated with March of Dimes, whose volunteer Mom put it best.  Caralee Lubring said, “We made Arizona babies a top priority.”  She also shared her moving story of her twin sons that were born at 28 weeks.  One was with her at the celebration; the other died hours after being born.  Babies born before 39 weeks can face all types of challenges in life – including an early death.  Almost of fourth of all children under 18 that died last year had been born prematurely.

I talked a little about how this challenge and the way we achieved the reduced prematurity rate shows the new face of public health.  We used to be able to kill bacteria in water and create vaccines to change the community health situation.  With this challenge, we worked with March of Dimes and the Arizona Perinatal Trust, the Arizona Academy of Pediatrics, countless volunteers and parents in the state to create a policy change – a shift in thinking – to not elective to have babies born before 39 weeks.

Dr. B.J. Johnson joked with the crowd and quizzed how many knew who Virginia Apgar was – some only knew the name from their children’s Apgar scores from when they were born.  He explained that her work to grade what we do with baby policies and procedures became “new medicine”.

Finally, Banner Health’s Myste Johnson talked about how they had been effectively used the hard stop to reduce the prematurity rate.  The number between 2011 and 2013 represents about 300 kindergarten classes – 9000 babies were not allowed to be born too early.  The theme they use – Yay Baby!

Congratulations to all the people who made this work at ADHS, March of Dimes and across the state.  A very special thank you to the doctors and hospitals that have had to say no to families patiently explaining that, “A Healthy Baby is Worth the Wait.”