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Turning Personal Tragedy into Triumph

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This brave mom decided to give back to other moms after her sweet daughter died at only 8 days old.

rebecca ava rabinowitz

Kimberly Seals Allers: Phyllis Rabinowitz knows a mother's worst nightmare. On July 21, 2006, her daughter, Rebecca Ava, died at 8 days old after being misdiagnosed in the emergency room. The trauma began with the ER experience. "The doctor was so dismissive," Phyllis recalls. "He was like, 'This is just a common cold. I've seen children for twenty years. I've got to get to a real emergency down the hall ....' No matter what my husband and I asked for, the whole experience was very condescending. We knew our daughter was sick."

The hospital refused to re-admit Rebecca. By the next morning, she was septic and bleeding from the nose. Phyllis will never forget the sight of her husband desperately performing CPR, or the seemingly endless ride in the ambulance. But baby Rebecca didn't make it. The Rabinowitzes ordered a state autopsy (independent of the hospital) -- and it revealed that baby Rebecca had had a common enteroviral infection, not a common cold. Had her symptoms been properly diagnosed and treated, she would still be here today.

Instead, Phyllis and her husband, Andrew, learned -- in the most horrible way -- that most emergency room physicians are not properly trained in pediatric emergency care. In fact, very few hospitals have all the necessary equipment to properly treat babies.

"Like any parents, we were profoundly sad and angry," says Phyllis. "I was in a deep depression. We started researching for answers. We knew something was not right. We learned that all ERs are not created equal when it comes to being ready to treat infants."

Sitting in their den with supportive friends and family, Phyllis and her husband decided to do something -- and the R Baby Foundation was born. The nonprofit foundation has the distinct purpose of saving as many babies' lives as possible -- particularly those who have some sort of viral infection in their first month of life -- by improving pediatric care in emergency rooms across the country. Today, R Baby's work includes raising awareness about infant mortality and emergency-room care, providing training opportunities for anyone who touches a baby, providing life-saving equipment to hospitals, and parent education. (Check their website for a soon-to-be-released 10-page guide for parents.) 

I'm a proud supporter of the R Baby Foundation, and I consider Phyllis to be my sister in the struggle to reduce infant mortality -- a cause I am passionate about through my work at MochaManual.com. This year, the MochaManual team and I will be once again participating in the R Baby Foundation's Mother's Day Run/Walk on Sunday, May 9, in New York City's Central Park. The aim of the Walk is to raise awareness and funds to improve emergency pediatric care for babies. What a great way to start my Mother's Day! Team momlogic, anyone? There are plenty of activities for the whole family.

Phyllis and I were having lunch recently, and I so admired her strength and her determination to turn her tragedy into a triumph for other moms and their babies. (I also admired her radiant glow. She's expecting -- and looking fabulous!) Phyllis had an amazing career in the cosmetics industry and a job she loved, but her life-changing experience became a career-changing experience. As we talked about the joys and challenges of running a business, she said, "I knew work would no longer fulfill me in the same way as being forever connected to my daughter through this work. I just followed my heart and never looked back."

If you're a mom who followed her heart to a business or nonprofit venture, join Phyllis, myself and an amazing roundtable of kick-butt mompreneurs this Friday, March 5, at 12:30 PM EST for a dynamic discussion of priorities, community, risking it all and having it all. Click here to register for the live webcast event and join the conversation for a worthy cause.

As for life after loss, Phyllis says it best: "My baby only lived eight days, but she's in my heart every day. And she inspired us to help save other babies so they could live their lives."



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