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People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla couple lead March of Dimes campaign to aid prenatal research

Lisa and Matt Bresnahan are pictured in 2019 with their daughter Madeline.
Lisa and Matt Bresnahan, pictured in 2019 with their daughter Madeline, are co-chairing the March of Dimes San Diego Matching Gifts Campaign.
(Courtesy)

A La Jolla couple are spearheading a campaign to raise money for the local chapter of the March of Dimes after their daughter’s premature birth illustrated the importance of pre- and post-natal care.

Matt and Lisa Bresnahan, residents of the Muirlands neighborhood, are co-chairing the recently launched March of Dimes San Diego Matching Gifts Campaign as part of their ongoing work with the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of mothers and babies through research, education and resources.

Matt, a law firm partner, joined the San Diego market board for March of Dimes soon after Lisa gave birth to Madeline in August 2018. Madeline, who was six weeks premature and weighed only 4 pounds, 1 ounce, spent 22 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“The scariest part about prematurity is, in most cases they don’t know what causes it, and in a lot of cases you can’t prevent it or prepare for it,” Lisa said.

Though Madeline is healthy today, Matt said he was motivated to get involved in issues involving mothers and babies because of his daughter.

“It’s the reason why I invest my time. There are tremendous opportunities to create a lot of good,” he said.

Matt answered questions from the Light about March of Dimes and the gift campaign:

Q. Can you tell more about your journey to joining the San Diego board for March of Dimes?

A. “I’d been involved in the yearly March of Dimes gala before. I thought it was a great organization, focusing on healthy moms and babies. Given my work in the biotech community and once Madeline came and she was premature, it just made more sense to get involved.”

Q. What does your work with the March of Dimes board consist of primarily?

A. “It’s a lot of raising money for the organization, providing oversight to the San Diego market for the events they have. In ordinary times, we have the gala, a large event held yearly in October. There’s a military baby shower. There’s additional, smaller events that are all about providing support for moms and babies, and advocacy as well, through legislation and getting more money from state and federal sources earmarked toward keeping moms and babies healthy.”

Q. Why is this work important to you?

A. “There’s a high amount of premature births and, worse, deaths, happening, especially in minority communities. Access to prenatal care is not something that’s readily available in those groups.”

Q. Is there anything you’ve discovered through your work with March of Dimes that you’d wish you’d known when going through the birth process with Madeline?

A. “I didn’t know about all the resources available; there’s quite a few.”

Q. In a recent March of Dimes news release, you said, “The pandemic is putting mom and baby health even more at risk.” How is pre- and post-natal health being affected by the coronavirus?

A. “Pregnant women need to go in for a lot more doctor visits than any of us. They’re more likely to contract COVID than others. That’s the main point. There have been studies as to whether the mother can pass COVID on to the baby. They’re not conclusive yet, but that’s an area that March of Dimes is focusing on for research.”

He cited statistics from March of Dimes executive marketing director Heidi Lang that indicated a recent study found that pregnant women with COVID-19 are 50 percent more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit and need oxygen, 70 percent will need ventilators and 15 percent will give birth prematurely.

Q. The news release also said the United States is among the most dangerous developed nations in which to give birth. Can you explain more about that statement?

A. “It’s alarming that we have, of all the developed countries, the worst care for mothers and babies. … Every hour, two babies die in the U.S. Every day, two women die from pregnancy-related causes.”

Q. What is the Matching Gifts Campaign and what are your goals for it?

A. “Originally, Lisa and I were going to chair the yearly March of Dimes gala. In lieu of that [the gala was canceled due to the pandemic], we came up with this idea to still raise money, a matching funds campaign. [The San Diego board] has all put in a specific amount of money to create $50,000 to match [community] donations. We are hoping for more.

“I hope to spread awareness of the issue. I don’t think people are aware of how prevalent this issue is, prematurity. Not every child is as lucky as ours; they don’t necessarily proceed as a normal child, and there’s implications for that.

“I think the answer is through more research, personally. We don’t know the reasons [for] prematurity; I think long-term, research is the solution.”

To donate to the March of Dimes Matching Gifts Campaign, visit marchofdimes.org/events/sdmatchinggiftcampaign.

Editor’s note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.