CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — There is a maternal-and-infant health crisis in the United States, according to the March of Dimes nonprofit organization.
Its members are tracking premature birth rates. Those statistics have slightly declined in the U.S. and Texas, but advocates say there is more work to do, especially in South Texas.
"A liter of Coke turns out bigger than some of these babies,” said Laurie Beck, a registered nurse at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi, and member of the March of Dimes organization.
Most of the newborns in Driscoll's neonatal intensive care unit came from premature births. In the NICU, they are constantly monitored, from tiny head to tiny toes.
“Breast milk always makes a big difference when we have a compromised baby or sick baby,” Beck said.
She helps manage the milk bank for babies with longer hospital stays than expected.
Salazar-Vega waited two weeks to bring her second child, Violet, home from the hospital.
“There's no explanation for it. For Violet, there was a premature rupture of membranes. Your water broke for no reason,” said Karyn Salazar-Vega about her preganacy.
Violet came six weeks early. Her lungs had not fully developed, neither her fingernails.
"All this time is going to waste," said the mother of two 'preemies.' "I can't even be with my baby. I'm just home."
Her little one finished developing in the NICU. Violet was born with heart issues and bleeding in the brain.
“It's very scary because you try everything in your power to bring your baby into the world safely, and it's all out of your control at that point,” Salazar-Vega said.
According to the March of Dimes, Corpus Christi's preterm birth rate is 11.7 percent. That is almost two points higher than the national average. The nonprofit releases a yearly report card with the latest data on the health of mothers and babies in the U.S. This year, Texas received a D as its preterm birth grade.
“Texas received a grade of D for this year with a preterm birth rate that has declined slightly from 11 percent to 10.2 percent,” said Dr. Patrick Ramsey, who teaches at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Particularly, Bexar County, Hidalgo County. They're among the worst in the country."
Doctors say, healthcare, prenatal care, and access to them — or lack thereof — are at the center of this issue.
"Many Republicans did come out saying, 'The time is now, we do need to pass Medicaid expansion and we need to do it for our fellow Texans,' " said DFW Hospital Council President and CEO Steve Love during Wednesday’s 2021 March of Dimes State of Texas Mothers and Babies webinar. "If we can continue that grassroots ground swell, maybe next session we can get it done.”
Even though Medicaid expansion did not pass in the state's recent legislative session, House Bill 133 did. It extends postpartum Medicaid coverage from two to six months. This is a move advocates hope will save Texas mothers.