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Children's National Hospital receives transformational gift for prenatal pediatrics

The investment will revolutionize care for mothers with high-risk pregnancies and their babies.

A young mother leans over her baby laying on a bed and smiles while holding her baby's feet.

Children’s National Hospital announced a transformational gift from Judy and Leo Zickler that will set a new standard of care for mothers and babies — particularly those in under-resourced communities. The gift names the Zickler Family Prenatal Pediatrics Institute

“This extraordinary partnership builds on our national leadership in prenatal and newborn care. It will provide the strongest start for families across our community,” said Michelle Riley-Brown, M.H.A., FACHE, president and CEO of Children’s National. “The Zicklers’ visionary commitment will elevate support for expectant mothers to improve outcomes and help high-risk babies thrive.”  

The investment funds three new initiatives that will enable Children’s National to:

  • Establish a Continuum-of-Care Wellness Clinic for maternal mental health and mother-baby wellness. It will provide coordinated care for mothers with high-risk pregnancies and prioritize underserved families. This effort will ensure that more pregnant women receive robust, culturally sensitive mental and physical care throughout their journeys.
  • Create a novel Continuum-of-Care Nursing Program that incorporates nursing care before a child is born and follows the family through the months and years after birth. This will transform the field of nursing and care delivery by creating a new subspecialty and training program focused on continuous care for mothers with high-risk pregnancies.
  • Harness technology and innovation to ensure the best outcomes for high-risk babies. Children’s National will develop and deploy next-generation devices and approaches, including advanced MRI and neuromonitoring, to evaluate and treat mothers and babies before and after birth. This work will inform critical decisions about the safest timing for delivery and when to perform lifesaving procedures. 

“Many chronic conditions have their origins in the womb. Prenatal pediatrics is the gateway to healthier families today and for future generations,” said Prenatal-Neonatal Neurologist Adré du Plessis, M.B.Ch.B., director of the Zickler Family Prenatal Pediatrics Institute, division chief of Prenatal and Transitional Pediatrics and director of the Prenatal-Neonatal Neuroscience Program. “This gift will allow us to bolster resources for mothers, intervene during this crucial stage of development and forever change children’s health trajectories.” 

Initially, these efforts will focus on pregnancies complicated by congenital heart disease (CHD). It is the most common birth defect in the United States, affecting nearly 40,000 newborns per year. Brain injury and lifelong neurodevelopmental delays are common complications. The initiatives will create a replicable model of care for high-risk populations, such as babies with lung and brain malformations, and other serious birth defects.

“Stronger futures for children begin with healthy mothers who have access to trusted and continuous care during their pregnancies and beyond,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., director of the Center for Prenatal, Neonatal & Maternal Health Research, chief and director of the Developing Brain Institute and director of Research for the Zickler Family Prenatal Pediatrics Institute. “Thanks to the Zicklers’ incredible generosity, we can seamlessly support mothers across these critical transitions.”

Maternal stress, depression and anxiety affect up to a quarter of women. Stark inequities exist in under-resourced communities where nearly 50% of women experience these issues. Dr. Limperopoulos’ pioneering research found that persistent psychological distress during pregnancy hinders babies’ brain development and affects their long-term cognitive development.

Judy and Leo Zickler have supported Children’s National for three decades. Prior gifts funded stem cell research, a fellowship in the Brain Tumor Institute and a fellowship in Fetal, Neurologic and Critical Care Medicine. 

“We have always been impressed with the vision and energy of the hospital’s leaders,” said the Zicklers. “We chose Children’s National to leave our family’s legacy because of its commitment to provide personalized care, advance research and expand services to underserved members of our community.” 

The couple has seven children, 16 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Several family members received care at Children’s National, including a great-granddaughter. She was born with CHD and spent time in the Neonatal and Cardiac Intensive Care Units. 

“All mothers and babies deserve to have access to world-class care before and after birth,” added the Zicklers. “We are thrilled to support this innovative program that will give more children the opportunity to lead happy, healthy lives.” 

About Children’s National Hospital