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  1. Health

Ernest Hooper: A ray of hope for high-risk pregnancies

Published Mar. 19, 2014

It's a term that describes what sounds like a simple task, but the phrase "hospital bed rest" actually strikes fear into the heart of a pregnant woman.

"Stay in bed, don't go anywhere, don't get up," may sound like an invitation to rest and relaxation, but when a pregnant woman receives that order, it's an ominous sign.

No one understands this more than Heather Barrow, whose water broke at 24 weeks when she was pregnant with her son, Hill.

Doctors and nurses delivered dire predictions. They told her the baby may not survive if he was born within the next 48 hours. If he did survive, they said, he would likely suffer from disabilities.

It's their job to give all the facts about outcomes and complications. Those words didn't comfort Heather. In fact, they heightened her fear when she needed a positive outlook.

But a turning point came when her pastor, John DeBevoise of Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, visited.

"He said, 'I don't know what God's plan is for this baby but I know that the doctors don't know either,' " Heather said. "He said, 'He could be born today and he could not make it or he could be severely disabled, but maybe he won't be.'

" 'Maybe I'll be standing up in six months at his baptism and telling this awesome story.' "

And that's exactly what happened. Heather and her husband, Bennett, built on that ray of hope. She completely refocused her attitude, striving to carry the baby to term.

Both Tampa natives — Heather graduated from Plant High and Bennett graduated from Berkeley Prep — received tremendous support from family and friends.

People brought her home-cooked meals every night. Someone brought her a "bed rest basket" with items she didn't even realize she needed. And she needed a lot.

Bed rest means you use a bed pan. It means you only get a sponge bath every three or four days. It means you wear sleeves around your legs that constantly inflate to prevent blood clots.

Heather made it another eight weeks before giving birth, and she credits the support she received. Five years later, her son, Hill, is healthy with no major complications. Heather and Bennett are the driving forces behind High Risk Hope, a nonprofit that annually provides support to 1,200 women and families facing high-risk pregnancies at St. Joseph's and Tampa General hospitals.

On Tuesday, the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida honored Heather as a Woman of Promise during its annual Women of Distinction Luncheon.

Heather said the 100-plus volunteers help provide baskets that include a variety of toiletries, a 24-ounce water bottle, an eye mask and ear plugs for rest, and adult wipes.

It's an important role because not every woman has a strong support system. And if the support extends the pregnancy, even by 48 hours, it can be the difference between life and death.

"What we've seen is the need is so great because no one is out there helping this population," Heather said. "Being one of the only ones out there comes with a great responsibility.

"It's nice to know we've impacted those lives and made a difference that I think will last throughout the baby's life."

Heather is convinced that the hopeful attitude fostered by High Risk Hope makes a difference. They won't rest in trying to help women who need to do just that.

That's all I'm saying.

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