FBDR statewide meeting figured prominently in National Birth Defects Prevention Month

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One of the highlights of National Birth Defects Prevention Month was the Florida Birth Defects Registry statewide meeting held Jan. 8-9 at the Doubletree Westshore Hotel in Tampa. With the USF College of Public Health as its driving force, the registry’s third statewide meeting gathered some 50 attendees from across the state to explore implications of the registry’s vast database and discuss how their observations can help prevent birth defects.


“Basically, our goal was to bring together stakeholders and people interested in birth defects and what the registry does, and potentially using the registry for research,” said Dr. Russell Kirby, USF Distinguished Professor and Marrell Endowed Chair in the Department of Community and Family Health.

“We had an audience that included some people from academia, some students from USF, and quite a few people who work in public health settings around the state,” Kirby said. “We had people from the state health department, but also people from county health units, some people from Healthy Start coalitions around the state, and a few clinicians. I was encouraged that Dr. Juan Acuna came up from Florida International, and a leading geneticist from the University of Florida who had worked with the Danish Birth Defects Registry came, as well.”

Kirby was one of three speakers directly from COPH, along with Dr. Jennifer Marshall, Community and Family Health research associate, and doctoral candidate Jean Paul Tanner, MPH.

Russell Kirby, PhD, MS

Russell Kirby, PhD, MS

Dr. Jason Salemi also addressed the conference. Salemi is an assistant professor of community and family medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He earned his MPH and PhD at USF COPH.

Other featured speakers included Dr. Cara Mai and Dr. Cynthia Cassell from the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control, and Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, cardiovascular program director and surgical director of the heart transplantation program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute. Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, delivered the welcome and opening remarks.

“All-in-all, I think it was a successful conference,” Kirby said. “I think we’re one of the registries that’s doing quite a lot with relatively scarce resources. We generated a lot of interesting dialogue about things that I think will generate additional use of the registry and continue to build a base of support for the program.

“Public health programs are endangered on all sides in terms of funding and have to demonstrate their relevance. That was part of the reason we wanted to have the conference. We wanted to continue to make our case for the need.”


Among the conference’s valuable networking outcomes, Kirby said, were connections made with the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, which maintains a database on surgeries for congenital heart defects, since they by far top the list of life-threatening birth defects.

“Some of the things that our registry is focusing on is improving our data collection on congenital heart defects and learning more about when babies with critical congenital heart defects are being diagnosed,” Kirby said, “and working toward getting all those babies diagnosed within the initial newborn stage.

“That’s something we’re working toward in direct collaboration with the Florida Department of Health, but what we’re also hoping is that people across the state will use our data and information we have on the website as bases for promoting greater awareness of birth defects and the opportunities for prevention, and for ensuring that families that have babies with birth defects are able to access the services available to them.”

Kirby said he already is looking forward to next year’s meeting with an eye toward increased student involvement.

“The energy and enthusiasm of the students is almost boundless,” he said. “All we have to do is give them some ideas, and it’s amazing what they’ll do.”

Related story:
COPH birth defects researchers to host statewide meeting in January

Story by David Brothers, College of Public Health.