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Trying to survive: fighting infant mortality in Lucas County

Mike and Colleen Oberhous sit with their son Owen (courtesy:NBC24.com).

LUCAS COUNTY, OHIO (WNWO)- Out of the 52 babies who died in Lucas County in 2017, African American babies were two times as likely to die than their white counterparts. This gap has remained consistently high In Lucas county and for mothers like Colleen Oberhous and Ideshia Shumaker.

For those lucky enough to wear the title of mother they say the feeling is indescribable.

" [It's] the best thing I've ever done," said Oberhous.

"To actually be able to you know support somebody other than myself it's a rewarding job," said Shumaker.

Though both women share the title of mom, their experiences before giving birth were dramatically different.

First time mom Oberhous had a specific birthing plan with her baby Owen, while the birth of Shumaker's first child involved tragedy.

"He was the one that I found out about the program for and he didn't make it."

The love these mothers have for their children is identical. However, despite the shared loved there are differences that impact the way each woman gave birth.

Getting access to adequate food, housing, transportation, childcare are just some of the issues both Shumaker and thousands of other moms face who enter the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio Pathways hub. It's an organization, in part, that focuses on mothers dealing with poverty while pregnant. Aside from circumstances, Vanessa Fitzpatrick of Mercy Health says there's another struggle moms deal with-- skin color.

"We continue to not do well with infant mortality rates of our black babies, our white babies we seem to be doing a really good job," said Fitzpatrick.

There were 41 infant deaths in Lucas county in 2016. 22 of those babies were black and 19 white, which doesn't seem like much of a gap. But when you look at the infant mortality rate for white versus black babies, those numbers are startling. In 2016 the Toledo Lucas county health department shows the death rate for white infants is at roughly 5 births for every 1,000 live birth. For black babies its at 14.2, nearly three times as high. The 2017 numbers are just as worrisome, with preliminary data showing an increase in the infant mortality rate from 7 deaths on average to 9.

"What that shows us is we still have a lot more work to do here," said Carly Salamone, Assistant Director, Northwest Ohio Pathways.

It's not just as easy as changing zip codes as Salamone points out. Racism impacts black mothers no matter what tax brackets, which adds stress on mom's unborn child.

"The data shows that when you have an African-American woman residing in a predominately white female and male dominated world in terms of later education, in the workplace that adds additional chronic stress."

When it comes to a way to fight these statistics, health experts say it's about getting moms connected. For a thriving mom it's important to have access to both healthcare and resources along with education such as proper sleep patterns.These issues killed more babies than birth defects in 2017. To help move that needle in the positive direction the county is also getting funding from the state. The Ohio Department of Medicaid is awarding both the Lucas County Health Department and Hospital Council $2.2 million towards fighting infant mortality.

"There will be 13 new community health workers spread across our homeless shelters our federally qualified community centers and our health systems," said Salamone.

Those workers often come from the same community as the women they're giving back to. Some issues in life can't be avoided, but for others it's simply about prevention.o matter who you are, what zip code you live in every new life is a blessing. Every baby deserves a chance at making it to their first birthday.

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