Carrie Rhodes is the co-founder of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Seattle Advisory Council and member of the National Development Committee. She resides in Seattle with her daughters, Dani and Lily.
As a nurse, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world working towards achieving higher standards of global health. Many of these opportunities allowed me to work directly with women and children. Some of these experiences involved providing vaccinations as part of a comprehensive plan to improve the health and living standards of families in developing countries. I was witness to a lot of hardship as well as a lot of hope during these trips. As a result, I have become very committed to global health causes.
On a trip to India, I saw women giving birth to girls and crying, knowing that they would be forced to get pregnant again until they had a boy. My time was spent with these mothers and their newborn daughters, fawning over these beautiful babies in an attempt to reignite their mother’s hope and joy over their new daughter. On occasion, when I would return the baby to the mother, the mother-in-law would tell me to “keep it.” Of course, my response was “no, but thank you.” However, those experiences only deepened my empathy for these young mothers and babies. I would say these two experiences defined my passion for global health and children’s issues.
Shortly after my experiences in India, I traveled to China and worked in a Children’s Hospital. The nurse working in the newborn ward introduced me to a beautiful two-month old baby girl who had just recently begun to feed from a bottle. The nurse began to tell me this baby’s story, or what she knew of the story.
Sometime during childbirth, the nurses believe an unsanitary instrument was used to cut the umbilical cord. The baby contracted tetanus and miraculously, her parents were able to get her to a hospital that had the correct medicines. She was ten days old when she was brought to the hospital. She was having convulsions, and her tiny jaw was locked tight so that her parents were unable to feed her. The doctors and nurses thought they could help her, but we think the parents believed she would not make it and left, certain they would never see their daughter again.
When I think of how those poor parents endured a nightmare and how helpless they must have felt as the certainty of their own child’s death overwhelmed them, I ache. I cannot imagine watching my daughter in agony for seven days feeling helpless and hopeless. My heart hurts for that poor mother.
As the nurse was telling me this story, I was looking into this beautiful baby’s big brown eyes, she smiled up at me and, in that moment, I fell in love.
I decided to adopt that baby girl with the big brown eyes and bring her into my family. Her name is Dani.
I called my grandfather, a neuropathologist, and my family’s pediatrician and asked about the residual effects of neonatal tetanus. Both doctors answered with surprise. “Tetanus?” they had responded in disbelief. Tetanus is no longer a part of their medical training because the solution has existed for so long. They researched it for me and found that the only physical long-term effects occur when the baby’s spine is fractured. Luckily, that was not the case.
I am so proud of my daughter. She is thriving. She plays soccer, volleyball and basketball, she dances and sings. She obviously does not have any spinal injuries. She is a very intelligent young woman going into high school this fall. She loves animals and gives back to our community by volunteering in animal shelters in our community. She is an amazing girl.
She is also a lucky girl, and I am an extremely lucky mother. Most babies who contract neonatal tetanus don’t worry about potential spinal fractures because they die. Most parents who watch their precious newborns suffer don’t get to worry about their child’s education and watch them play soccer because their sweet babies die. This doesn’t have to be. There is a very simple solution. If all girls and women receive just three doses of one of the most effective vaccines, maternal and neonatal tetanus can be wiped out. All it takes is the commitment, the funding, the will. All it takes is you. Please give.
Our family has committed a pledge of US$1 million to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to fight Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) to save and protect thousands of children like Dani. We believe The Eliminate Project is our calling and could not find a better reason to stretch ourselves and give. We are honored to be asked to get involved and excited to commit our own resources to support Kiwanis and UNICEF’s partnership to eliminate MNT.
Click here to donate to The Eliminate Project to fight MNT.