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Column

For babies, doctor goes above and beyond

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published April 18, 2007


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Few things are more heart-wrenching than the sight of a tiny infant fighting for his life in a hospital's neonatal unit.

Unless you're the doctor who has to tell the parents their child is not going to make it.

But Richard Sheridan knows that those lowest of times are when parents need him most.

"Where I get satisfaction is helping parents through that crisis," said the local neonatal specialist. "But the majority of our babies survive."

Seeing babies survive and wanting a healthy beginning for every infant motivates Sheridan to go above and beyond. In addition to his compassionate work with families, he serves as the Healthy Start Coalition board president and is a member of Hillsborough County's Fetal Infant Mortality Review Committee.

On Tuesday, his efforts made him United Way of Tampa Bay's volunteer of the year. Along with Sheridan, nine other winners were recognized by United Way.

I served on a judging committee that made the determination, and it was not surprising to see Sheridan win.

Sheridan - who cares for infants at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Mease Countryside in Clearwater and Community Hospital in New Port Richey - helps lead the state's efforts to reduce infant mortality.

There are few places where the fight is more important than Hillsborough. The infant mortality rate any baby who dies within the first year is 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. That's the second highest rate of any urban area in the state.

To help lower the rate, Sheridan initiated the Beds 4 Babies campaign, which has funded portable cribs for more than 100 impoverished families. He also began a Hillsborough County jail partnership, where a specialist visits the jail daily to assess high-risk pregnant women who have been arrested.

Of course, his professional service meets the ordinary standard of giving, but Sheridan said there are compelling reasons to do more.

"One of my mentors ... taught us that how we take care of those that can least take care of themselves is the most important judge of our society," Sheridan said.

That same attitude is reflective of the other winners.

Clearwater High's Rebekah Hammond, who won the youth award, stood out even though she didn't attend the luncheon. Hammond - who holds YMCA leadership positions at the local, state and national level - bypassed the luncheon to compete in the Class 3A, District 7 tennis tournament, where she won a singles title.

Other winners: Carolyn McKinney, Lowry Park Zoo; Bob Peterson, Museum of Science and Industry; Susan Cohen, Helen A. Davis Elementary; Jim Mulcahy, West Central Florida Agency on Aging; Alice Bair, Redlands Christian Migrant Association; Tania Wagner, Ben Hill Middle School; Jean Gartland and Citigroup, James A. Haley VA Hospital; and the Feliciano Family, United Cerebral Palsy/Achieve Tampa Bay.

The real reward for these volunteers, however, is seeing others reap the benefit. Sheridan recalls the excitement nine years ago when his team finally sent home a baby who was born prematurely. Today, he is healthy third-grader at Christ the King School.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or hooper@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 18, 2007, 03:09:31]


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