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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Babies are dying in Dallas County and now Parkland Hospital is pulling together a team of experts to figure out why.

According to figures the hospital released today, the national infant mortality rate is about 5.82 per 1,000 live births. But, in Dallas county that rate was 6.53 per 1,000 in 2012. That rate jumped to 7.43 per 1,000 live births just two years later.

“If you’re working two jobs—you’ve got to put food on the table first and we worry about that, before getting to the doctor’s appointment,” says Joe Chang, MD.

Dr. Chang is an Associate Chief Medical Officer of Outpatient & Ambulatory Services. He’s also an expert in obstetrics and says it is a daily occurrence that women arrive at Parkland to deliver—never having visited a doctor for prenatal care.

“Transportation is one of the factors that our patients tell us—‘hey, I can’t get to appointments, it’s not on a bus line or not on an easily accessible light rail line’; but, the other thing that we notice, especially in terms of moms and babies is nutrition.”

Dr. Chang says he will be shocked if the team’s report—due later this spring—doesn’t cite both transportation and Dallas’ enduring food desert crisis as factors.

“Access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and freshly cooked food is really difficult,” says Dr. Chang, “those are some of the main things that really have nothing to do with our own bodies—it’s factors outside of our body.”

Dr. Chang also says genetics can play a role in which pregnancies are more at risk. And yet, moms-to-be can do everything right—and something still go wrong.

“I was in the hospital on bed rest,” recalled Rebekah Mitchell, “and my baby still died.”

Nearly 22 years have passed, and Mitchell has never stopped calculating the memories not made. “We moms—and dads, too—but, we Moms are so aware of when our babies should have started kindergarten, when they should have started junior high, sweet sixteen,” says Mitchell. “I didn’t tell anybody; but, I knew exactly when my Jonathan should have been walking that stage.”

Her Jonathan was stillborn. Doctors explained that it was an umbilical cord accident. Mitchell says she and her husband had a three-year-old at the time, so they had to go on—but, she never ‘got over’ the loss.

“Even in those darkest first few months, I would lie in bed and think about all the ways I could maybe connect with other women, I needed to connect with other people,” recalls Mitchell, “and then I would think—who would ever ask me? Who would ever care what I had to say?”

So Mitchell founded M.E.N.D. — Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death. She’s also been asked to serve on the Parkland led team trying to figure out what’s contributing to Dallas County’s escalating infant mortality rates. The goal is for information to spur change to help others avoid an unimaginable loss.

“It helps me realize, too, that my little Jonathan’s life was not in vain, so if I can give back and do something good out of my horrible grief and sorrow, it is very worth it.”

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