Dr. William Sappenfield earns March of Dimes’ highest volunteer award

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University of South Florida (USF) researcher William Sappenfield, MD, MPH, has many titles—professor in the College of Public Health, chair of the Department of Community and Family Health, and director of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies. However, his most recent designation as the 2012 recipient of the Elaine Whitelaw Volunteer Service Award is one that makes him particularly proud.

LaVerne H. Council, chair of the Board of Trustees, Dr. William Sappenfield, and Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president March of Dimes

“… you have been unanimously selected to receive the March of Dimes prestigious Elaine Whitelaw Volunteer Service Award,” said Jennifer L. Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes.  “This award is given in recognition of your extraordinary vision and leadership to implement the 39-Weeks Quality Improvement Initiative.  Co-chairing this initiative with Dr. Bryan Oshiro, you have established urgency on an issue with national implications, engaged influential leaders, and impacted thousands of families.”

Drs. Bryan Oshiro and William Sappenfield, co-recipients of the 2012 Elaine Whitelaw Service Award

A board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Sappenfield collaborated with Bryan T. Oshiro, MD, medical director of the Obstetrical Services and the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Diagnosis, Treatment and Research Center at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital in California, and the duo are “leading a movement to transform the practice of obstetrics in the United States and improve the health of thousands of babies,” according to a March of Dimes press announcement.

Sappenfield’s relationship with the March of Dimes began in 1989. From a volunteer in South Carolina to a researcher and leader in Florida, his passion has and continues to be addressing maternal and infant health issues.

“For more than three decades, Dr. Sappenfield championed the use of local and state level data to identify maternal and child health issues and monitor progress toward improved outcomes,” said Russell S. Kirby, PhD, professor and Marrell Endowed Chair in the USF College of Public Health.  “He is one of the driving forces behind the scenes of the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative.”

Starting in 2007, Dr. Sappenfield co-led the March of Dimes’ Big 5 Prematurity Prevention Initiative which united California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas.  These states have the largest populations and represent nearly 40% of all preterm births in the United States.  Thanks to the Big 5’s leadership, program development, evaluation, and unwavering commitment, the 39-weeks initiative, a plan to reduce elective deliveries in hospitals, is embraced in the Big 5 states and is spreading nationwide.

“Never in my career have I witnessed such amazing results in perinatal health care occur in so little time. The fact that a volunteer-driven project improved the health and quality of care for mothers and infants is a testament in and of itself,” said Sappenfield. “This could not have happened without the substantial contributions of so many individuals and organizations committed to the health of mothers and infants.”

Dr. Sappenfield possesses more than 28 years of experience in maternal and child health.  Prior to joining the USF College of Public Health in 2011, he served as the state MCH epidemiologist for the state of Florida. For 21 years, Sappenfield protected the nation’s health as a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an officer in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service of the United States.

“Engaging in voluntary service to the community is something we believe strongly in at the College of Public Health,” said Donna J. Petersen, ScD, MHS, dean of the College and senior associate vice president of USF Health.  “It is truly an honor to have one of our own receive such a prestigious award as this.  It exemplifies the extent to which we commit to making lives better in communities at home and around the world.  We offer our most heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Sappenfield!”

Named after Miss Elaine Whitelaw, the service award honors the commitment and leadership she provided to the March of Dimes and recognizes her contribution to the volunteer movement in America. Awardees are selected from a national pool of nominees for Chapter Volunteer of the Year.

Click here for a related story on Dr. Sappenfield and his vision for the Department of Community and Family Health and the Chiles Center.

Story by Natalie D. Preston, College of Public Health