It’s estimated that one in 10 babies is born prematurely in the United States. That amounts to 380,000 children. Statistics show the US has the sixth-highest rate of premature births — any birth that occurs before the mother reaches her 37th week of pregnancy — in the world. Enter Brave Beginnings, a program that awards grants to hospitals to ensure neonatal intensive care units (NICU) have the ventilators and other neonatal equipment needed to save these little lives.
“Until we can reduce the number of premature births in this country, we’re going to give doctors and nurses all the tools that need to help preemies develop,” Todd Vradenburg, executive director of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, tells Parentology.
When a baby is born too early, they can have a host of medical issues including respiratory and heart problems, as well as issues regulating their body temperature because they’re so small. Premature babies can face a list of long-term complications as they get older, including impaired learning, hearing difficulties and cerebral palsy.
“They can save a baby at 23 weeks,” Vradenburg says of NICU care. Extremely important, he adds, ” Learning about this population and helping these kids advance. [Looking at] what can be done to prevent future problems.”
Vradenburg says the goal of Brave Beginnings — a program that evolved through the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation — is to give premature births the attention they deserve. He also wants to encourage startup companies to partner with their organization to fund equipment for hospitals.
How Brave Beginnings Focus Became Preemie Care
In 2006, another charity from the entertainment industry asked the Will Rogers Institute to help fund an incubator for a Los Angeles hospital. This resulted in the formation of the Will Rogers Institute Neonatal Ventilator Program. In 2015, the program was renamed Brave Beginnings.
The program is committed to providing funding for all types of lifesaving equipment in NICUs nationwide, not just ventilators. Brave Beginnings receives over 100 applications every year from hospitals around the country.
“We award grants based on compelling need, what impact the equipment will make, and whether it’s replacing dated equipment, “ Vradenburg says.
Preemie Care in Hospitals Now
Vradenburg tells Parentology hospitals generally fall into three categories; those renting equipment with a need for their own, those that need equipment that nurtures development after preemies are born, and those who want to grow their NICU to a level three (a neonatal intensive care unit that is capable of caring for very small or very sick newborn babies) to reduce the need for transporting preemies. This is to combat risks involved with transporting preemies that include hypothermia and the need for oxygen.
Why it’s so important to have ample equipment available for preemie care? “When you only have so many, the child who is born gets priority,” Vradenburg says, “the child who can breathe on their own gets moved to another environment. We want to get hospitals up to date, we know the need is there.”
Brave Beginnings’ Strides Towards the Future
According to Vradenburg, Brave Beginnings’ goal is to fund as much equipment as possible within the next 10 years.
To date, Brave Beginnings has granted more than eight million dollars to 175 hospitals across the United States. The money for these grants comes from donations as well as theater partners from around the country.
“There are new tools and therapies needed,” Vradenburg says. “The more and better tools they have, the more the medical community can do for these kids.”