A tragedy spawns a search for answers

November 01, 2011  

Marathon’s Andrew Rabinowitz founded R Baby in honor of his late daughter.

By Danielle Beurteaux

  Andrew Rabinowitz: Do we really put child health care at a premium?
In the U.S., 28,000 babies die in their first year of life, 20,000 in the first month. America ranked 29th in international infant mortality in 2005. "We still lag behind all industrial countries except the UK," says Andrew Rabinowitz. "We still have three times the infant mortality of our Asian counterparts."

Rabinowitz is out to change those statistics. Rabinowitz, 40, partner and chief operating officer of the $10 billion New York hedge fund firm Marathon Asset Management, is the co-founder, with his wife, Phyllis, of R Baby Foundation. They started R Baby in 2006 after they lost their nine-day-old daughter, Rebecca Ava, to a common viral infection that is easily treatable if detected but potentially deadly if not. Their local hospital dismissed their daughter’s illness as a cold and the couple as neurotic first-time parents, says Rabinowitz. They founded R Baby initially to address the treatment of infant viral infections and have since expanded its mission to improving health care for children.

To mark its fifth anniversary, R Baby is holding a fundraiser and awareness event this March at the Plaza Hotel in New York. The keynote speaker will be Barclays CEO Bob Diamond. R Baby has raised almost $5 million since its inception and given grants to some of the country’s best medical institutions to help develop pediatric health and training programs, such as POISE (Patient Outcomes in Simulation Education) at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. POISE uses simulators — patient proxies that can cost $500 to $50,000 apiece — to help new residents and more experienced doctors practice procedures before treating a live baby.

"Thanks to the great work at Yale and other hospitals, mistakes made by doctors who graduate the program are cut by 50 percent over a three-year period," says Rabinowitz.

Dr. Marc Auerbach, co-director and co-founder of POISE, says R Baby has also been supportive with ideas. "I’ve been amazed by how passionate Andrew and Phyllis are about R Baby," says Auerbach. "Each year they put more and more in." R Baby has also expanded, with chapters opened in Maryland and Colorado in 2007 and one opening soon in Washington state. A grant to the University of Maryland Hospital for Children has funded the creation of the first state blood library. Named after the Rabinowitzes’ late daughter, the laboratory stores viral infections that affect children, enabling doctors to quickly match virus strands.

"Doctors get the information faster, and it’s available to the entire state of Maryland," says Rabinowitz.

While child mortality rates have improved slightly in the U.S., there’s still a shortage of pediatric emergency providers. Only 6 percent of hospitals nationwide have full-time pediatric emergency centers, according to the Institutes of Medicine. Asks Rabinowitz, "Do we really put child health care at a premium?"

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