Outstanding Central Texas Medical Professionals Receive Awards

January 31, 2014

Jackson in the NICULove for our children is primal – before even hearing the first heartbeat we dream of holding them and kissing them and protecting them with the ferocity of a lion. But for some moms (like me) and many dads, too, when a baby is born preterm or with special health care needs, the natural bonding experience expected at birth sometimes does not happen on its own.

Following my son’s early birth at just 24 weeks gestation, I felt tremendous guilt for my lack of the natural mother instincts to protect and fight for my medically fragile child. It was years before I understood and acknowledged that my emotions were normal and what many mental health experts classify as Anticipatory Grief, which happens when we prepare ourselves emotionally for the possibility of our baby’s death. I was scared to allow myself to love my son because I was so scared of losing him.

After six weeks I finally held Jackson for the first time. It was then that I knew he would come home and, regardless of the challenges, we would face them as a family. It was then that I allowed my heart to open so I could love the tiny, precious miracle that had been given to me.

I was very blessed to have a caring team of medical professionals along this difficult journey who were attentive not only to my fragile son’s care but also to my own and that of my family. That care began with the obstetrician who provided my prenatal care and the emergency c-section that we did not expect. That care continued in the NICU where nurses, neonatologists and social workers counseled me, consoled me and educated me during the long, hard days my son and later, my daughter, resided in the NICU. Post discharge, my children continued to require special care and our pediatrician and specialists have been trusted partners over the years as my husband and I made important decisions to ensure our children had the best start in life. My story is not unique – medical professionals are critical partners in the care of mothers, fathers and their newborns every day. 

On February 13, 2014, Hand to Hold will recognize four medical professionals with  “For the Love of Babies” awards for their strong support, compassionate care and excellent medicine to Central Texas babies and their families. We invite you to join us to show your support of these outstanding medical professionals and the tremendous impact they and Hand to Hold are having in our community and across the country. Learn more about the event and get your ticket.

The award winners this year represent excellence in the fields of social work, obstetrics, neonatology and pediatrics. We hope you will congratulate them especially if they have made a difference in your life, too!

Nancy SheppardNancy Sheppard, LCSW, Seton Healthcare Network

Nancy Sheppard is currently the Perinatal Services Outreach Coordinator for Seton Healthcare Network. She is a policy and service advocate for the needs of the perinatal population in Central Texas and serves as the liaison between the Seton Network and community agencies and professionals. Her mission is to improve outcomes for mothers and babies across our community by fostering collaboration.

In 2013, Ms. Sheppard founded the Austin Perinatal Coalition to bring together programs, agencies and professionals who provide medical, mental health and psychosocial services and support to the perinatal population along the continuum including preconception, pregnancy, delivery and through the first year of a child’s life.  It is the vision of the Austin Perinatal Coalition to develop and strengthen community partnerships to improve overall pregnancy outcomes in Central Texas.

Ms. Sheppard currently serves on several community boards, including Texas Parent to Parent and the local March of Dimes chapter. She is also a member of the Seton Healthcare Family Pediatric and OB/GYN Ethics Committees and the Network Perinatal Loss Policy Committee. Ms. Sheppard was recently appointed to the Texas State Department of Health Services Task Force for Maternal Morbidity and Morality.

Nancy Sheppard has undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work from the University Of Texas School of Social Work and has worked as a medical social worker in both hospital and outpatient settings for over 20 years, specializing in pregnant and newly parenting families. Nancy began her career working with patients and families in the NICU and maternal/child health units with Seton Healthcare Family in 1993.

In addition to her employment with Seton, Nancy maintains a private practice where she works with children and parents who are seeking to stabilize their families following divorce and separation.

Dr. Christopher Seeker, Austin Area OBGYN

Chris Seeker

Dr. Christopher Seeker has been with Austin Area Obstetrics, Gynecology & Fertility since 1988. He is board certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and is a member of the Texas Medical Association, Travis County Medical Association and American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

Dr. Seeker is one of the most popular and recognized Central Texas physicians. Many local organizations and periodicals (Texas Monthly, Austin American Statesman, etc) have singled him out as an outstanding physician. He attributes his success to his faith in God and his steadfast dedication to women’s health. He regards the role of family as sacred.

Dr. Seeker is a native of Odessa Texas and attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock earning a degree in chemistry in 1980. He obtained his doctor of medicine from The University of Texas Health & Science Center in San Antonio in 1984 where he was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha honorary medical society. Dr. Seeker did his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor, where he was chief resident, and at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

He and his wife, Ann, have three children (Paige, Luke, and Blake Ann). The Seeker family spends much of their free time on their working Texas Cattle Ranch and Pecan farm near Austin.

Dr. Audelio “Sonny” Rivera, Jr., St. David’s HealthCare

Sonny RiveraSonny Rivera, Jr., MD, FAAP is a neonatologist and director of the neonatal intensive care unit at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. He is also the medical director for Pediatrix Medical Group and Austin’s First Steps High Risk Follow-Up Clinic, a clinic he established in 2011 to provide specialized care to former NICU babies.

Dr. Rivera has dedicated his professional life to caring for the sickest newborns and researching how to improve their health by way of better nutrition. He co-founded the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin in 1998 to make donor human milk more available to preterm and sick babies. In addition to serving as the Milk Bank’s president of the board for 12 years, he leads research and development to provide nutritional labeling and innovations to enrich donor milk. Dr. Rivera also works closely with Hand to Hold, a nonprofit organization that provides education, resources and support to NICU parents. In 2010, he received the National Frist Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf of newborns and their families.

Dr. Rivera earned his medical degree and completed his residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. He completed fellowships in neonatal-perinatal medicine and infant nutrition at the University of Iowa and and his undergraduate degree in biology at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Outside of medicine, Dr. Rivera has a passion for olive oil and wine production. He tends a grove of more than 1,000 olive trees and has three varieties of red grapes under cultivation in Bastrop County.

Dr. Kelly Thorstad, Lone Star Pediatrics

Kelly ThorstadDr. Kelly Thorstad is a board certified pediatrician and a Fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics. She founded Lone Star Pediatrics in August, 2003 and is currently in private practice in Austin, Texas.  She is a past President of the Pediatric Alliance of Austin and has served as a member of the Medical Executive Committee for Dell Children’s Medical Center.  She is currently a board member of the Texas Advocacy Project, a nonprofit that provides  free legal services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Dr. Thorstad has taken a very special interest in treating children who have had a NICU stay since the early days of her career.  When she receives a former NICU patient, depending on the age of the infant, she may set up multiple appointments per week to meet with the families and their baby since she has found that parents have so many questions and needs that need to be addressed. Because of her compassion, advocacy and the extra time she takes with each family, she receives high marks from families and many referrals from neonatologists.

Dr. Thorstad graduated from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.  She completed her pediatric residency training at the Children’s Hospital of Austin, now Dell Children’s Medical Center, and served as Chief Resident. Prior to her medical training, she earned a Master’s degree in clinical neuropsychology from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada and her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

She is married to Trevor Turner, MD, a physician in Round Rock, and they have two children, Cole and Avery.

We are grateful to our sponsors St. David’s HealthCare, Cook-Walden Funeral Homes & Cemeteries, and Mead Johnson Nutrition.