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Health Officials Raising Awareness About Oklahoma's Infant Mortality Rate

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Unsettling statistics surround Oklahoma's infant mortality rate. Unsettling statistics surround Oklahoma's infant mortality rate.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

Unsettling statistics surround Oklahoma's infant mortality rate.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department reports about two infants die in central Oklahoma each week.

Local health officials hope to tackle the issue by bringing more awareness.

Canielle Preston recently shared her heartbreaking story at the OKC Infant Mortality Summit sponsored by the by the March of Dimes. Preston detailed the worst night of her life, when her infant boy Tyrese died of an undetermined cause.

"He was a healthy baby boy weighing at 7 pounds 3 ounces, and then at 8 days old, I woke up to check on my baby, and he wasn't breathing," Preston said.

Kenesha Rucker shared similar grief when doctors did an ultrasound at 34 weeks and couldn't find a heartbeat for her daughter Keyonna.

"Feb 18 at 8:58 p.m. I had her, it wasn't easy, I think about her all the time, I miss her, I love her," Rucker said.

These mothers make up the nearly 400 Oklahomans, who tragically lose infants all before their first birthday.

Health officials said the multiple factors include: smoking, obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

"A lot of diseases and a lot of different things actually contribute to that infant mortality rate, so we look at being healthy before your pregnant staying that way during pregnancy, making sure you have access to good healthcare," said Kelli McNeal, supervisor for the fetal and infant mortality review at the OKC-County Health Department.

McNeal said more than a fourth of all infant deaths she reviews each year are caused by an unsafe sleep environment, where there is a layover or asphyxiation.

Jennifer Albright said her baby girl Emily died while taking a nap in her bouncer.

"When we lost her, it was the hardest thing ever, it's hard because she only had 2 months 18 days with us before she left," Albright said.

Similar tragedies are dramatically decreasing each year, but still not soon enough.

Another startling statistic county health officials found was the infant mortality rate is twice as high for African American babies than Caucasian babies.

“What we really want to do is work with the African American community and find hopefully some new strategies to really make sure that we can reduce all of those numbers,” McNeal said.

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