Tragedy triggers a mission

Arlanda Williams was driving to work last Wednesday, to the Terrebonne Parish School District office, with a lot on her mind.

There was the work at hand for the day, of course, and then there was the matter of a meeting at the Terrebonne Parish Council, where Arland sits.

And there was the matter of the baby.

Arlanda’s sister, who lives in Beaumont, Texas, was awaiting the arrival of a baby girl, and news of the delivery would come any day.

So when Arlanda got the cell phone call from her step-mother, she wasn’t waiting to be given the news, she decided to announce it herself.

“We got a baby, we got a baby, we got baby,” she said with great excitement and glee, and then came her stepmother’s words.

No. There would not be a baby.

Everything was ready for the delivery and then the doctors made the discovery. There was no heartbeat.

“I stopped at work and told my supervisor there is no way I can let my stepmother and my little sister go through this without me,” Arlanda said. Then she headed for Texas and drove non-stop.

When she arrived there was more heartache in store.

The doctors told the already bereaved mother that she would have to birth the child in the normal fashion, for her own health, and there came hours of labor for an outcome that was already tragically told.

“I kept thinking this has got to be the worst thing in life, to carry a child for nine months and then to give birth knowing they are going to give birth to that child dead,” she said.

Before this tragedy happened in her own family, she was well on the way to getting answers about how people – babies and adults – can be healthier and live better.

She has recently been involved with a program at the Morehouse College School of Medicine that will allow her to look more closely at issues in local communities like infant mortality and child obesity.

In July Arlanda joined First Lady Michelle Obama and other officials at the White House to celebrate work already done on the “Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties” program.

It calls on elected officials to adopt strategies that improve access to healthy, affordable food and opportunities for physical activity.

Involvement with the program will allow Arlanda to work hard on the connection between infant mortality and nutrition issues, but also to employ some novel thinking and look at how other issues – including genetics – play a role in such problems.

What Arlanda already knows about babies dying instead of being born – or in some cases dying too soon after birth – is that Louisiana is one of the states with too much of this.

The tragedy last week is not the first time circumstance has turned a baby in Arlanda’s family, or someone she knew well, into an angel.

Communities must work together for answers and Arlanda says she can’t think of a better question to seek answers to.

Mourning for the baby continues, as does mourning for so many other babies whose deaths – in utero, in the crib – are not understood.

But mourning doesn’t do as much good as action, in Arlanda’s opinion, and she hopes through the resources available to her that answers, but most importantly protocols for prevention, will emerge.

Her own sister, she said, was anything but the person people might think of in terms of a tragedy like this. There were no nutrition problems, nor the economic issues that plague many families who have suffered the same problem.

That, Arlanda said, makes looking for answers more intriguing and ever more necessary.

“People take so much for granted and life is so short, there are some things we need to start looking at,” Arlanda said. “We need to see what we can do.”