Kanisha Ffriend is combining her passion for education, maternal health, and technology to improve the health of expectant and new mothers and provide the support they so desperately need.
This week, Kanisha Ffriend’s effort to reduce maternal mortality and improve health through data science and care coordination is in the running for a big boost. Ffriend’s organization, HeirBloom, is currently a finalist for the American Heart Association’s EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator Program.
It all started in 2016 in upstate New York. Ffriend, then a senior at Syracuse University, coordinated a baby shower with her sorority for at-risk mothers. Initially thrilled by her sorority’s ability to provide so many essentials like diapers, cribs, and strollers, her excitement was tempered by a conversation with one of the mothers as she was leaving the gathering.
“She kept asking me what would happen after the baby was born,” recalls Ffriend, who is currently enrolled in the School of Nursing’s Women’s Health and Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner program. “I realized that this was someone who came into this experience vulnerable and was leaving it with those same vulnerabilities. She was so uncertain of her future and that stuck with me.”
Following her graduation from Syracuse, Ffriend worked as a teacher for five years.
“Something was missing for me in teaching, but I could never quite figure it out,” Ffriend recalls.
As Ffriend evaluated her options she learned more about maternal mortality in the United States.
“I found so many statistics and so many testimonials about how deadly childbirth can be and emotionally challenging it remains for those who don’t suffer critical medical complications,” she said.
As Ffriend continued to learn and research her future, she stumbled upon the role that doulas play before, during, and after birth.
“Working as a doula connected a lot of dots for me,” says Ffriend, who by then had also received her Master’s in Education. “It spoke to my desire to help mothers and babies while also leveraging my background in education.”
Ffriend had just begun building her practice as an independent doula when the pandemic hit. “There was no room for anyone extra in the delivery room in the spring of 2020,” she says. “That’s when I realized the power of technology.”
Ffriend created dozens of online courses, resource and clinician catalogs, and discussion groups for her clients. “Suddenly, I was connecting moms to different clinicians with different specialties and introducing them to fellow expectant mothers experiencing similar things in their own pregnancies.”
Each time a new client would enlist Ffriend’s help on a new topic, her resources and knowledge base would grow. After connecting one expectant mother who was having a hard time managing stress with an acupuncturist, Ffriend began fully integrating a combination of Eastern and Western medicinal practices in her services, connecting clients to things like Reiki and acupuncture in addition to more traditional Western services like nutrition and midwifery health therapy. “My scope of practice kept expanding to the point where I was able to provide comprehensive care before, during, and after birth in coordination with a variety of different providers,” says Ffriend.
That’s when Ffriend realized the impact she could have on maternal and infant health if mothers were supported in a comprehensive and holistic way throughout their birth journeys. “Stress can quite literally be fatal during pregnancy,” she says. “So, what if we eliminate stress as much as possible? What if our main goal is supporting mom however she needs? That’s my goal.”
As Ffriend’s client base grew so did her need for a comprehensive database to manage her clients. “Between intakes, scheduling, insurance, and provider referrals, there is a lot to keep track of,” she says.
That’s where EmPOWERED to Serve comes in. An opportunity to earn up $55,000 in grant funding, EmPOWERED to Serve is a business accelerator founded by the American Heart Association, committed to uplifting organizations that are committed to health equity and improving the lives of their community.
Ffriend has already patented her unique client management system which allows her to automate and streamline intakes, deliver on-demand client education modules and assist first time parents in creating a comprehensive birth team. Receiving a grant from the American Heart Association will accelerate the launch of the new website where parents manage their birth and providers manage their clients.
“The grant will allow me to fully build out the digital home that I’ve created to support a powerful pregnancy to postpartum care birth experience,” she says. It will also allow HeirBloom to compensate their wellness practitioners fairly as they share their expertise on their e-learning platform and through in-person workshops, offer beta membership at an affordable rate, and support their go-to-market strategy.
“There’s a better way for births,” says Ffriend. “We just need to invest in properly caring for mothers.”
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