YOUNGSTOWN Ohio –Columbus, Ohio resident London Rucker gave birth to a 5-pound, 15-ounce baby boy she named Isaiah Rucker at 10:06 a.m. May 2, 2016.
“When I found out that I was I was pregnant, I was shocked, hurt. But after a couple days I was happy,” London said.
She said that her mother, father, and two sisters Paris and Danielle Rucker were there for her well-being the entire pregnancy and at 37 weeks, London gave birth to a completely healthy baby whom she named Isaiah Rucker.
“I induced my own pregnancy, I was over it,” London said. “I took that castor oil girl, within two hours I was contracting,” she said, laughing while she recounted the story.
After five hours of labor, London and Isaiah Rucker were both sitting comfortably in the postpartum room surrounded by her family.
“I did notice that when he was first born and they [medical staff] did the suction [a method used to clear secretions by negative pressure via a suction catheter or bulb syringe], I would notice it seemed like he was choking,” she said.
London asked the nurses about it and they told her that it was ‘completely normal’ and nothing was wrong. They reassured her that infants do that if the labor goes by quickly.
Accepting this response from medical professionals, London and Isaiah went home the next day, not worried.
“Even after we went home, he would still choke randomly. At his checkups, I would ask the pediatrician about it. I told her what the nurses told me and she agreed that it was just because of the labor and that he was fine,” London added.
Despite her relatively complication-free pregnancy and birth, and reassurances from numerous medical professionals that Isaiah was “fine,” less than two weeks after he was born, London awoke to find Isaiah not breathing.
London and her mother, who was with her and Isaiah at the time, reacted quickly. London’s mother performed CPR on Isaiah as London called 911. Emergency and medical services soon arrived and rushed Isaiah to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
But all of this was not enough to save Isaiah’s life – he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital; making Isaiah one of the 1,024 infants that died in Ohio in 2016 before their first birthday according to the Ohio Department of Health.
In 2016, 165 infants died before their first birthday in Columbus. Columbus is one of the nine metropolitan areas in Ohio that accounted for 59 percent of all infant deaths, and 86 percent of black infant deaths the same year.
Now, the Ohio Institute for Equity in Birth Outcomes run programs and other partnerships to improve overall birth statistics and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in regard to infant mortality in these nine cities, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The Death of Isaiah
The night before Isaiah died, London explained that she had a difficult time getting Isaiah to sleep.
“I took him for a walk around the block, rocked him, I did everything. He would take cat naps, but never go to sleep like he should have been,” London said.
Later that night, she gave Isaiah a bath, fed him, and they both went to sleep.
The next day, London woke up around 6 a.m. and was concerned because “Isaiah is usually awake and ready to be fed, but he wasn’t,” she said softly.
“I started panicking because he wasn’t awake. I knew something was off.”
London checked on Isaiah and discovered he was not breathing.
“I ran and got my mom, and we tried to resuscitate him with, you know, two fingers and breaths. We tried CPR. His nose started bleeding and his body was reacting to it. He was making these little [gasping] noises but he wasn’t opening his eyes,” she said.
While her mother was working on resuscitation, London called 911 and the ambulance came shortly after.
15 minutes later, four emergency personnel soon arrived; two from the fire department and two from the emergency ambulance. When describing her interaction with the men, London said she found it “unpleasant,” and explained that she was told to sit outside the house when they went inside as she quickly became impatient.
Overwhelmed by the situation, London quickly went into a panic attack and had severe lightheadness. “I was yelling, it felt like I was going to pass out,” she said.
The emergency personnel called in another ambulance to take London to Grant Hospital in Downtown Columbus while they made London’s mother ride separately in her own car following the ambulance vehicle with Isaiah inside to Nationwide.
As London was being checked into Grant, she was met in the hospital room by a male police officer who London said described her as ‘careless.’
After talking with the officer, London spoke with a female police officer, who stated that she is usually the one who comes handles cases like London’s.
“She [the officer] was a woman so she was more understanding and caring,” London said.
More police officers and social workers came to the hospital later, while she was in bed being monitored, asking London the same questions she previously answered.
Despite the initial scrutiny, London says a few days after Isaiah’s autopsy, the hospital came back with his cause of death – nothing.
Specifically, the coroner, did not find anything linked to Isaiah’s death, so his death was declared Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, better known as SIDS.
SIDS accounted for 7% of infant deaths in 2016, while prematurity-related births lead with 30%.
Statistically speaking, African American infants are twice as more likely to die from SIDS than white infants, according to Cradle Cincinnati. However, from 2007-2016 specifically, both black and white infants died from SIDS at a rate around 7%.
According to the World Health Organization, 4.2 million infants died globally within their first year of life in 2016 which is 75% of total deaths from children under the age of 5.
Infant mortality rate is defined as the total number of Infants [passing] within their first year of life in a community. WHO states that infants in the African region are more than six times likely to die than those in a European region.
Racial trends are similar in the United States as they are globally, putting the U.S. at 170 out of 225 countries for infant mortality.
In 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America’s five leading causes of infant deaths were listed as preterm birth, injuries, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), birth defects, and maternal complications placing the nation’s mortality rate at 5.9.
At the same time in Ohio, the infant mortality was 7.2 percent.
A Better Tomorrow
It is estimated that it will take until 2053 for Ohio’s black infant mortality to match a white infant’s mortality rate from 2013 if the current rates continue.
Specifically speaking for Mahoning County, one of the with one of the worst black infant mortality rates, there was a racial disparity in infant mortality between white infants (5.5 percent) and black infants (15.1 percent). This rate is increasing every year.
Mahoning county’s infant mortality rate is listed at 8.6 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Health, which is well above the national average. Mahoning county’s total infant mortality is like those who live in Sri Lanka and Bulgaria.
Mahoning’s black infant mortality rate is similar to those who live in Iran while Mahoning’s white infant mortality rate is similar to those who live in Slovakia.
Major factors impacting infant mortality rates are health care, drug usage, lack of healthy food options, prenatal care, and poverty/ family income.
Ohio’s lawmakers suggest that the lack of care in the medical offices impact the quality of care majorly.
Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares proposed Senate Bill 332 as a plan to decrease the current infant mortality rate to 6.0 percent or lower by the year 2020.
Tavares says that she strongly believes that racial issues are impacting infant mortality rates and the quality pf care they receive during their pregnancy. She believes that medical professionals are acting off their own biases.
“I think we all have implicit biases. We may not recognize it, and that’s why it is import for us to first look at ourselves before we start to look at other cultures,” she said.
Together, the political leaders of Ohio have passed initiatives to decrease this number, including a $50 million-dollar budget to help save infant lives.
Also in SB 332, there was the establishment of the Pathways Community model throughout the state of Ohio.
Pathways uses health workers who are from the community, who are trusted and who have a rapport with their clients. They, in turn, connect at-risk individuals to physical health, behavioral health, social and employment services. Pregnant women will now be able to access critical services to help deal with the issues they face outside the clinical realm.
Senate bill 332 discusses preterm births and the impact they have on the State considering almost half of them are paid for through Medicaid.
Approximately 3 million people in Ohio are covered by Medicaid and 79% of those people are children.
Currently, the government is looking at cuts to Medicaid nation-wide which is a concern for many people.
Inside this bill, there are budgets reserved for nonprofit agencies to serve as a bridge to a healthy pregnancy and child.
Some of these agencies located in Mahoning Valley are Mahoning County Help Me Grow, ALTA Behavioral Healthcare, and Healthy Moms.
Lachelle Goldson, a community healthcare coordinator at ALTA said that their overall goal in the Infant Mortality Program is to make sure pregnant women are getting the proper help that they need to have a healthy pregnancy and child.
Unfortunately, these non-profit organizations rely on government funds to operate such as Mahoning County Help Me Grow.
Program Manager Kimberly Johnson at Mahoning Country Help Me Grow said to continue services they offer such as nurse home visits, “We’re still hoping for the feds to reauthorize it. I think it is in the budget, but I don’t know what happened since it went to our president’s desk.”
“We were awarded a nurse-family partnership grant just in the last week. That will be another program that we start in the next several months. We’ll be getting that off the ground,” she said.
Under this program, registered nurses will be visiting the homes of high-risk mothers to ensure that infants are healthy pre-birth and post-birth by the age of 1.
Johnson says that high risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, and drug usage in soon-to-be mothers are what they are looking for in soon-to-be mothers as they launch their newly approved program, Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MC-V).
“We see the successes.” she said.
Tavares recognizes these programs as strong factors in which mothers and infants are effectively ensuring the healthy lives of babies.
“If we can’t guarantee our very youngest residents – citizens of America – healthcare, and ensure they get the healthy start that they need, we’re dooming them to a life of unhealthy habits,” Tavares added.
London said coping with Isaiah’s death was the hardest part of the ordeal for her.
“I got him cremated, but you know, it’s kind of crazy because his remains are in this urn inside a blue bear. When he was born, I got this necklace with this bear on it, it has a blue heart on the center,” London said.
“He [Isaiah] was perfect.”
After finding no solace in drinking or blaming other people for Isaiah’s death, London turned to her faith to find peace.
Reflecting on the situation, Rucker tries to see the positivity in it. She believes that this was ‘God’s plan’.
Every year on Isaiah’s birthday, London and her family celebrate in remembrance of him.