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Kathryn Hall-Trujillo

Place of Residence: California

Why She’s a Game Changer: Hall-Trujillo is the founder of Birthing Project USAwhich works to create better birth outcomes for women of color in seven countries.

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Given that America is one of the richest countries in the world you’d think we’d have a low infant mortality rate. Think again. The United States ranks behind much of Europe, Japan and Canada when it comes to infant mortality at around 50th in the world.

“That means that every developed country in the world and several developing countries, including Cuba and Taiwan, are ahead of us in terms of our babies being born and living to age one,” said Hall-Trujillo.

As is the norm for most negative trends in this country, the numbers are far worse for African-Americans. If African-Americans made up their own country, we’d rank around 75th in terms of infant mortality.

And African-American babies are two times more likely to die compared to white babies regardless of the black mother’s economic level, according to the Centers for Disease Control. African-American babies also have twice the sudden infant death mortality syndrome rate than white babies. Black babies are also four times more likely to die in infancy due to low birth-weight.

“If you think that when babies are born, whether or not they live or die when they are born,  is an indicator of what’s going to happen in the whole country beginning at birth, I think this is a really serious issue that our babies don’t live when they are born. We can’t really depend on anyone else to make sure that happens,” she added.

Watch a CNN Heroes report on Hall-Trujillo here:

As a public health administrator in California, Hall-Trujillo saw how much caring for sick babies costs and wanted to do something about it. It cost $300,000 to stabilize a sick baby for three months versus just $2,000 to ensure mothers were getting the proper care. The Birthing Project USA launched in 1988 by pairing pregnant women with mentors to help guide them through their pregnancy and that all-important first year.

“The message that I would give to expecting mothers and expecting fathers is regardless of the circumstances of how you got pregnant it’s really important to remember that you are having an opportunity to carry a new life inside of you and bring that new life into the world,” said Hall-Trujillo.

That reality hit home when the child of one of the young women Hall-Trujillo mentored died shortly after birth due to complications.

“I used the words infant mortality … every day of my working career. But until I held DeAndre in my arms, I never realized that that meant counting dead babies,” she told CNN. “[That] was…enough to really change my life.”

That incident also gave Hall-Trujillo the impetus to quit her state job and work with the Birthing Project USA full-time.

Since then, the group has blossomed. Veteran women participants train other women in new communities who set up networks of support for their young charges and then plug them in to those systems. The goal is to help the women not be stressed and learn the things they need to know to ensure their baby does not die.

When you hear statistics such as African-American women being twice as likely to receive no prenatal care or only 3rd trimester care compared to white women, it is easy to see why the mentoring is so important.

The Birthing Project USA model has been replicated in over 100 communities in the U.S., Canada, Africa and Central America.

“I remind women that they’re really sisters and can help each other have healthier babies,” said Hall-Trujillo.

After all these years, Hall-Trujillo is beginning to see the fruits of her labor with young adults who can say they were Birthing Project USA babies. She has received many awards that acknowledge the great contribution she is making. But the real rewards of her work are unmatched.

“It reminds me that God is still sending new life into the world,” she said.

Watch the wise Hall-Trujillo talk about battling infant mortality below:

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