March Of Dimes chapter to hold first lecture series

November 9, 2012

Damiana Andonova ’15 became interested in the complicated topic of premature birth when she was just a junior in high school.

“I was always fascinated with obstetrics and perinatology. In 11th grade I realized that causes of prematurity are still speculative,” she said. “Way back in the 1500s, DaVinci was thinking about causes of prematurity and still no one knows why some babies are born prematurely.”

That mystery inspired Andonova to start a new student organization at Brandeis this year: the first and only collegiate March of Dimes chapter in Massachusetts. March of Dimes is a national activist organization that fights for the health of babies. Originally founded during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency to help polio victims and fund a cure for polio, the organization succeeded and its official mission changed in 2003 to focus on fighting prematurity, birth defects and improving babies’ health.

Andonova believes that Brandeis was the right place to begin this chapter because of its variety of social justice and community service programs. “This is an issue that extends beyond whether you like babies or not. This is about universal themes of social justice, access to health care, equality,” she said.

“Our mission as a club is advocacy, philanthropy and education. We want to make meaningful learning experiences while we build a volunteer force that not only stays true to the March of Dimes mission but educates the Waltham community about the importance of prenatal care and ways we can support the fight against prematurity,” Andonova said.

March of Dimes will hold its first-ever speaker series, BabyTalk Colloquium, this coming week from Monday to Saturday, in honor of World Prematurity Day on Nov. 17. The discussions feature eight doctors and one public health researcher. They are meant to appeal to a variety of people, not only pre-health students, Andonova says. One lecture is geared toward neuroscience majors; another book-related lecture is intended to engage English majors.

The speakers include three Newborn Medicine Fellows from the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts University on Monday; Dr. Sarbattama Sen, a researcher of maternal obesity at Tufts on Tuesday; Dr. Adam Wolfberg, author of the book “Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU” on Wednesday; Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, MPH from the Heller School of Social Policy, an expert on infant mortality and maternal health disparities, on Thursday; Dr. Leslie Kerzner, an NICU doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, on Friday; and a capstone discussion on Saturday with Paul Sukithamapan, a Brandeis alumnus and founder of Project Plus One.

“The purpose of these events is to create transparency and discourse among doctors, researchers, families of Lemberg students and Brandeis students. The council thought in one hour we could combine social justice, science and narrative medicine by sharing, collaborating and discussing our common goals,” said Andonova, who plans to pursue the pre-med track of the HSSP major.

March of Dimes already has a strong relationship with the Brandeis science department. The organization gave its annual research grants of $150,000 to two biology professors, Avital Rodal and Suzanne Paradis (who specialize in neurobiology) this year.

The club also has a three-member faculty advisory committee, led by Judith Tsipis, director of the Genetic Counseling Program. These science professors “can help illuminate part of our mission,” Andonova said.

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