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Closing the Gap in Preterm Labor Education: Isabella Sesay’s Impact as a Zufall Public Health AmeriCorps Member

Isabella Sesay recently completed an 11-month service term with Public Health AmeriCorps, a volunteer program at Zufall Health dedicated to expanding the public health workforce, promoting health equity, and increasing access to services for underserved populations. Assigned to support the Prenatal Program at Zufall Health – West Orange under the guidance of Midge Clarke, RN, Sesay took on the critical task of preventing preterm labor among prenatal patients. Preterm labor, also known as premature labor, occurs when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, posing risks to the baby’s health and development.

Sesay and her colleagues were gifted with preterm labor kits for patients courtesy of the Partnership of Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey. These kits are comprehensive sets of tools designed to monitor and manage symptoms associated with preterm labor and preeclampsia. They include items such as a water bottle for hydration, a thermometer for temperature checks, urine dip sticks for detecting protein levels, a blood pressure cuff to monitor hypertension, a pulse oximeter for pulse stability, and a stress ball to manage emotional stress, aiming to support maternal health and reduce risks during pregnancy.

However, Sesay soon realized that merely distributing these kits wasn’t enough to effectively support patients in preventing preterm labor.

“We couldn’t just give patients the kits and expect them to know what to do. So, I had the idea to create corresponding educational materials to instruct patients on the importance and use of the kits,” Sesay explains. “I led the development of bilingual (English/Spanish) materials that explained the function of each item and made clear the warning signs to look for. My fellow AmeriCorps member Kiara Isaza was also critical in this process.”

One of the mothers Sesay assisted with this educational initiative was Angelica*, a first-time mother who faced challenges with white coat hypertension during her pregnancy, a condition where a person’s blood pressure readings are higher in clinical settings compared to readings taken outside of such settings. Recognizing Angelica’s heightened risk, Sesay provided her with a preterm labor kit and took the time to explain its use and importance.

“Angelica appreciated the culturally responsive intervention I provided her early in her pregnancy. She told me that I made her feel supported, rather than judged or like a statistic,” Sesay recalls.

Sesay and her team’s efforts yielded significant results: 93 percent of patients who received the kits gave birth full term, beyond 37 weeks of gestation. Angelica, now an established patient in primary care at Zufall Health – West Orange, continues to benefit from ongoing support, with her child receiving care from the pediatrics department.

In the future, Sesay plans to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree specializing in Maternal and Child Health, alongside an accelerated Registered Nurse (RN) program. She looks forward to being able to further address health care disparities, enhance access to prenatal care, and advocate for improved outcomes among underserved populations.

*Name has been changed to protect patient privacy

Above: Isabella Sesay (right) and prenatal patient Kai hold a preterm labor kit and educational flyer.

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