Article | By Karla Peterson
Originally Published in U-T San Diego | November 11, 2014
Dr. Sean Daneshmand of Miracle Babies is taking time out from helping families with critically ill newborns to organize, prepare and serve a Thanksgiving dinner to the women of the Kiva recovery program at the McAlister Institute.
As an obstetrician specializing in high-risk pregnancies, Dr. Sean Daneshmand knows all about the fragile miracle of life. But it took him awhile to discover the magic of making life count. As far as he’s concerned, he is still making up for lost time.
“For me, my work was initially a job. I loved my patients, but I didn’t know what my purpose was,” said the 45-year-old doctor, who works at the San Diego Perinatal Center and Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns. “But seeing a woman who has had a baby with a major heart defect, and seeing how this family comes together to make sure this baby has a chance at a healthy life, that changed me. This dumb little man was suddenly blown away by people.”
The first product of Daneshmand’s epiphany was Miracle Babies. This nonprofit organization, which Daneshmand founded five years ago, gives families the emotional and financial support they need to deal with the demands of having a child in the neonatal intensive care unit. In 2010, CNN recognized Daneshmand and Miracle Babies by naming the doctor a CNN Hero.
Daneshmand’s daughter, Natalie (now 9½), was born six weeks early, so he had a pretty good idea about what those demands were. His next effort was aimed at helping women have the best pregnancies possible. So Miracle Babies partnered with the YMCA for “Healthy Women, Healthy Children,” a health and nutrition program for women who are likely to have at-risk pregnancies.
Daneshmand’s latest project is the Kiva Learning Center, a long-term residential drug- and alcohol-addiction treatment program run by San Diego’s McAlister Institute. The Kiva program is for women, with or without children, who are trying to kick their addictions and better their lives. On Nov. 23, Daneshmand will honor them with turkey and TLC.
With the help of friends, family and volunteers (including local Food Network star Marcela Valladolid), Daneshmand is giving the women of Kiva a Thanksgiving lunch. In addition to the meal, there will be a yoga session and gifts of clothes and toys, along with generous portions of emotional support.
“Most of these women come in with very low self-esteem, and when someone shows an interest in them and shows them a better way of doing things, it uplifts them and inspires them to be better than they thought they could be,” said Jeanne McAlister, founder and CEO of the McAlister Institute. “A lot of people say, ‘How can I be of help?’ but if it doesn’t meet their needs or make them look good, they fall by the wayside. But not Dr. Sean. He is right there and he does what he says he is going to do.”
Giving Kiva a Thanksgiving to remember was Daneshmand’s idea, and he is spearheading the effort to draft volunteers and gather donations. And when Nov. 23 rolls around, he will help with cooking and serving.
But as with Miracle Babies, the inspiration came from a mother. Daneshmand was visiting patients this year when he met a young woman who was caring for newborn twins. As he chatted with her about her life and her babies, Daneshmand discovered she was in recovery at Kiva. That chat led to a visit, along with the discovery of another way to make a struggling parent’s life a little easier.
“When she was speaking to me, I was seeing this beautiful young woman who had been dealt the wrong cards in life. And when I took a tour of Kiva, I loved what I saw there,” Daneshmand said during an interview at the Miracle Babies offices in Serra Mesa.
“When we talk about anyone using drugs, people tend to turn their heads away. But this is not something that is going away. We have a drug epidemic in this country, and the way to stop it is to go to the people who are taking this on and say, ‘What do you need?’ You have to look at what Jean McAllister is accomplishing with Kiva and say, ‘How can I help you?’”
Ask Daneshmand if he always wanted to be a doctor, and he will answer quickly and in the affirmative. The urge to give back surfaced later than he would have liked, but it comes from a deeply rooted place.
Born in Baton Rouge, La., to Iranian parents, Daneshmand spent a big chunk of his childhood living in luxury in Iran. After the fall of the Shah in 1979, the family’s fortunes changed. The Daneshmands moved to a small Los Angeles apartment in 1981, and the indulged young man learned some lessons that the grown-up doctor puts into practice every day.
“The best thing for me is that I realized nothing is constant. And it made me very aware of the sacrifices my parents made for me,” Daneshmand said. “I also learned that life is unpredictable. You don’t know what is going to be around the corner, so if you care about something, do it now. If you are passionate about something, do it. You’ve got one life to live, and this is it.”
Kiva Cares Thanksgiving will take place on Sunday, November 23, 2014 from 1pm – 3pm. For more information about volunteering or donating, please contact Marisa.Varond@McAlisterInc.org.