When James Barrientez’s daughter was born early at 28 weeks, she weighed only 1 pound, 10 ounces and was the length of a ruler at just 12 inches.
For two months, she received around-the-clock care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Fresno Community Regional Medical Center, fighting the infections that attacked her tiny body – a result of being born 12 weeks premature.
“It was truly scary and overwhelming because we didn’t know what was going on,” Barrientez, of Fresno, said. “She was so small, and we didn’t know if she would be able to fight, but she did. She did really well.”
Today, Aliana Barrientez is two years old, healthy and thriving, thanks to the care of her parents and medical professionals who closely monitored her.
Through the Fresno County Preterm Birth Initiative’s Parent Council for Dads, Barrientez hopes to use his personal experience to help others who have also experienced preterm birth here in the Central Valley, which is home to some of the highest rates of preterm birth in the world.
The local initiative is part of a 10-year Preterm Birth Initiative led by UC San Francisco, with Fresno State serving as the backbone organization. Their goal is to reduce preterm births in Fresno County to seven percent by 2025.
To achieve this, working groups were developed to address the social and environmental factors that lead to preterm birth. The Parent Council is part of a group dedicated to providing coordinated care for women before, during and after pregnancy.
Just last month, the initiative launched the Dads’ Council – a subset of their Parent Council, which gives parents in the community an opportunity to come together and discuss their experiences with premature birth and offer insight and dialogue for those who are at-risk of giving birth to babies too early.
The idea for the Dads’ Council– which is comprised of fathers who have experience with preterm birth, as well as fathers who have not had any experience, but are at-risk for it– was sparked by fathers who wanted to be supportive of their partners and more involved in the process.
“Since the inception of the initiative, mothers who have experience with preterm birth have been at the forefront of the work, sharing their insights and experiences of preterm birth,” said Olga Nunez, community engagement coordinator with the initiative. “Inadvertently, fathers have been overlooked in the process, but now will have a substantial role – leading long-term focus groups and discussions through the Dads’ Council.”
Some of the topics of discussion at the monthly sessions include men’s role before, during and after pregnancy; the role of life, genetics and environment in preterm birth; possible causes of preterm birth; and how financial means affect preterm birth.
Barrientez said it is important to know that preterm birth is not just a mom’s issue, but also one that affects the whole family. His wife, Kristi Hernandez, is equally involved with the initiative, serving on the Moms’ Council, as well as the executive committee.
The next session of the Parent Council for Dads will be 6 – 8 p.m., Monday, March 19 at the Lighthouse for Children (2405 Tulare St.)
For more information, contact Olga Nunez at 228.2161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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