infant.jpgIvan and Syrtte Thorpe became parents  of premature triplet boys six years ago. The babies, born in the sixth month of gestation, all weighed one and a half pounds.

“They were so tiny that I could hold them each in the palm of my hand,” said Thorpe, 40, of Fort Lauderdale.

But one of the infants, who was born with blood on his brain, died the day after his birth. Another, whose internal organs never fully developed, lived one week.

The third boy survived and, now at age 6, is healthy and continues to grow, Thorpe said.

“Black fetal deaths are three times that of whites and 40 percent of infant deaths in Broward County are considered preventable,” said Saundra Despagne.

She is the infant mortality program manager for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Broward and she was speaking on March 14 at a Best for Broward Babies Town Hall meeting held at Joseph C. Carter Park Social Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Best for Broward Babies’ mission is to reduce racial disparities in both fetal and infant mortality rates in Broward County’s African-American and Caribbean- American communities through education, access to resources and support for women and men as they become  parents.

Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Broward is the managing agency for that group and is dedicated to reducing infant deaths by providing resources and education to pregnant women, parents and their families.

Infant mortality is defined as the death of a child less than one year of age. A fetal mortality or stillbirth is when there is no evidence of life, Despagne explained.

In 2009, the infant mortality rate among black babies in Broward County was two-to-one compared with that of white babies, Despagne said. The largest numbers of infant deaths occur in zip code 33311.

Cynthia Holmes, community outreach manager with Best for Broward Babies and and Jennifer Combs, Best for Broward Babies’ maternal health nurse educator, joined Despagne on a panel during the meeting.

About 35 people attended the session that was called to introduce residents to Community Voice, a grassroots initiative that trains people to share information with others on specific community-related topics.

Several factors contribute to the disparity between blacks and whites with regards to infant mortality rates, Despagne said.

 “More than half of pregnancies are unplanned and this is a precursor to gaps in services, including prenatal care, lack of substance abuse referrals and inappropriate education,” she said.

A mother puts herself and her unborn child at risk by using drugs and alcohol, Despagne said.  “The baby is then likely to be premature. The earlier the baby comes, the harder it is for him or her to live,” she said.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, also adds to the number of infant deaths. Soft sleeping surfaces such as pillows create a dangerous environment, she said.
 “Toys and bottles in the bed, bumper pads and quilts are things that should never be in bed with the baby. And neither should the mother,” Despagne said. Sleep sharing, she said is a danger. “The baby will suffocate if you roll over on him or her.”

Smoking around the child also increases the risk of SIDS, Despagne said. “Even if the toxins are in your clothing, that’s a problem.”

Thorpe, though, said that during his wife’s prenatal care she was told “everything was okay. Then, later, doctors said she could no longer carry them. We don’t know what changed.”

He described the town hall presentation as “really informative.”

“I picked up a lot of information and will definitely use it to inform others about the crisis,” he said.

Combs said last year about 300 babies died in Broward County. “These are our babies — black, white, Hispanic — and we have to do something about it,” she said.

The community has to be educated, Holmes added. “They need to know about the issues that cause our babies to die.”

Cynthia Roby may be reached at