High Risk Hope Founder Heather Barrow was just 24 weeks into pregnancy with her second child when her water broke and she went into labor. Doctors immediately prepared Barrow and her husband Bennett for the impending birth of her son Hill, warning he would have a 50 percent chance of survival and would certainly face some type of severe and permanent disability.
Preterm premature rupture of membranes at 24 weeks is rare, and the mother and baby’s life is at risk as long as the pregnancy continues. Barrow and Hill were closely monitored due to the potentially fatal risk of umbilical cord prolapse and infection. With the cushioning amniotic fluid between the baby and umbilical cord gone, any movement could cause the baby to roll on the cord and stop the flow of oxygen, resulting in brain damage or death.
Thanks to an excellent medical team, prayers, the support of loved ones and a positive outlook, Barrow remained pregnant for 59 days on complete hospital bed rest. To the surprise of an operating room full of nurses, obstetricians and neonatologists, Hill was born kicking and screaming at 32 weeks by an emergency C-section. Despite being born two months premature, and having no amniotic fluid for two months in utero, Hill needed no breathing support during his brief stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. Since his birth in 2009, Hill has met or exceeded every developmental milestone and has shown no complications related to Heather’s hospitalization or his premature birth.
Helping other mothers who may find herself in that situation has since become Barrow’s mission. Armed with determination, her experience and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in accounting from the University of Florida, Barrow founded High Risk Hope, a for purpose organization that provides support, encouragement, information and resources to women and families who are experiencing a high risk pregnancy resulting in hospital bed rest, potential premature birth and neonatal intensive care after delivery. Today, Barrow leads a team of non-compensated volunteers who reach out to more than 1,200 patients annually at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital and Tampa General Hospital.
As a result of High Risk Hope’s outreach in the Tampa Bay community, High Risk Hope was recognized as the 2015 Nonprofit of the Year by WEDU/PBS. Barrow, as founder and executive director, was recognized in 2014 as the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida Woman of Promise, in 2013 as a Tampa Bay Lightning Community Hero, as one of Tampa Bay’s “10 Leading Ladies” by Blu Tampa Bay, as an “Everyday Hero” by Bay News 9, and as a “Hometown Hero” by FOX 13 News.
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
We try to always do our best and not take success or ourselves too seriously. I tell my children, Claire and Hill, if at the end of every day they did more good than bad, it is a successful day.
What is your biggest fear?
The day someone I love becomes very ill.
What advice would you give to other women?
Ignore the negative chatter. There is a constant voice in my head saying I should be doing almost everything better. Whether it relates to raising my children or running High Risk Hope, I am my own worst critic. Sometimes it is spurred by misplaced criticism from someone in my inner circle or a negative comment from strangers on the Internet looking to stir up trouble. The bottom line is I am doing my best with the time and resources I have and that is enough. Every woman reading this article is doing enough too, ignore the haters, including you.
What is your proudest moment?
Every year since Hill was born, Bennett cooks (and our family delivers) Thanksgiving dinner to the high risk obstetric nurses and staff at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. I am extremely proud that Claire and Hill have embraced this tradition and understand the importance of showing gratitude to the people that helped our family during our time of need.
What is your biggest achievement?
I was able to remain pregnant on complete hospital bed rest for over eight weeks. That extra two months gave Hill a fighting chance at a full life without severe disabilities. I am not sure I will accomplish anything more significant in my lifetime.
What makes you happy?
My husband Bennett, hearing my kids laugh, meeting healthy High Risk Hope babies, coffee and country music concerts.
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
I am working on doing this more. My main escape from the craziness is riding my bike several mornings a week on Bayshore, usually around sunrise.
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area?
The quote we live by in our home, and at High Risk Hope, is, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,” by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I have it on my keychain and framed in the office. When I was pregnant with Hill, Bennett and I were terrified to hope we would leave the hospital with a healthy baby. Hill is now a healthy and normal six year old, breezing through Kindergarten. Almost every day over the past five years I have been terrified about what we were planning for High Risk Hope at any given time. From making our first hospital delivery at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital to moving into office space in Ybor City to our expansion to Tampa General Hospital to hiring our first employee, our biggest accomplishments were preceded by a large opportunity for failure. Make sure your dreams for your family, career and community are big enough to terrify you.
What else would you like to share?
I firmly believe to whom much is given, much is expected. My family was given a healthy baby, when for months we were uncertain Hill would survive. Although most families with healthy children do not have our unique history, they have the same gift to be thankful for. I want those families to remember the half million families in our country every year who deliver a premature baby who enters this world with an uncertain future. There is an opportunity right here in this community to give thanks for healthy babies by supporting families who were not as fortunate. High Risk Hope has ways for every member of your family to be involved in our fight for preemies.
What is your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is to try to be a role model for my children. I don’t always get it right but have realized if I am critical of my own appearance, parenting, accomplishments and relationships, then my kids will learn to mirror that criticism about them. If I tell them to be charitable and kind but do nothing to show them how, I cannot expect them to grow into charitable adults.