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Meet our Presenters
Meet our Presenters

In 2008, while pregnant with her second child, Carol Decker went into sepsis brought on by a bought of strep pneumoniae. She fought for her life and survived but not before losing her eyesight, both feet, left hand, and right ring finger. Despite these physical disabilities, Carol continually pushes her boundaries and limitations. She’s relearned to eat, walk, make food, apply makeup, keep the family schedule, run the house, and ski.  She strives to live and provide a normal life for her kids and family.

Carol published a book about her journey through sepsis title, Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life.  She speaks at conferences and universities across the nation and hopes to show by example that anyone can adapt to their situation and live a great life.

Nan H. Troiano, MSN, RNC-OB, NE-BC, C-EFM has been actively involved in perinatal nursing for over 30 years. The focus of her clinical practice, research, and teaching for over 20 years has been critical care obstetrics. 

Her prior academic affiliations include:  Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City; Thomas Jefferson University, in Philadelphia; and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. In each of these positions, she was on faculty in the Department of OB/GYN and specifically worked in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine where she served as Co-Director of Critical Care Obstetrics. Nan has also worked with the NICHD’s Perinatology Research Branch on a variety of high risk and critical care perinatal initiatives. 

Most recently, Nan was Director of Women’s and Infants’ Services at Sibley Memorial Hospital / Johns Hopkins Medicine in Washington, D.C. and this fall assumed the position of Director, Women’s and Infants’ Services at Adventist Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, Maryland. She has published extensively on a variety of clinical practice topics and is the senior editor of the 4th edition of AWHONN’s book: “High Risk and Critical Care Obstetrics”. She has consulted on several high risk perinatal and critical care obstetric educational and practice endeavors in the United States as well as Europe and South America.

Heather Brusegard was diagnosed with preeclampsia in the 26th week of her second pregnancy and was placed on hospital bedrest from that point on. At the end of her 27th week the medical team found that the baby’s umbilical cord blood flow was intermittently reversed and she was transferred from Fairview Southdale to the University of Minnesota in order to access a level 4 NICU. With the help of around-the-clock monitoring, betamethasone shots, magnesium, and blood pressure medicine, Heather was able to remain pregnant for an additional week; each morning she woke to an ultrasound to see if it would be “the BIG day”. Scarlett was ultimately born when her umbilical cord fully reversed at 28 weeks & 3 days; she was 13.75 in long and weighed 1.5 pounds. Heather’s elevated blood pressure did not go away after the birth of her daughter; she stayed on her blood pressure medicine and after a couple months was able to work with her physician to titrate the dose down to zero. Scarlett had a 114-day NICU stay where she moved mountains learning to breathe and grow. Scarlett is now three and a half and thriving with the help of a feeding tube as she never fully mastered the art of eating. When Heather is not chasing her girls around the playground or driving them to the numerous extracurricular activities, she can be found volunteering in the Minnesota NICU community or on the MNPQC Hypertension Committee. What was once a scary journey has now become a passion and purpose.

Lindsey Thurber, RN is a nurse in labor and delivery, who experienced a STAT cesarean birth at 34 weeks due to placenta abruption brought on by septic strep A infection. 

Liz Hochman FACCE, LCCE, CLC, CD(DONA) As the owner and lead teacher of birthED(tm), Liz has been heavily involved in the professional birth community since 2009.  She has served many birthing people and their families as a Lamaze Educator, lactation counselor, and doula. With an intention of lifting birthing people and families up, Liz's focus is always and will always be on creating a healthy and content parentbaby dyad in order to create a thriving culture and society. With her background rooted in research, she imparts evidenced based learning in a fun and integrative learning environment. Liz served several years on the board of The Childbirth Collective and currently serves on the Optimal Outcomes in Reproductive Health Conference board.

Nicole Stecker MN, RN, IBCLC, LCCE, BD Owner of Rock Your Birth(tm), Nicole has been embedded in birth work since 2009. She has attended several hundred births, taught 1,000s of students in Lamaze classes, and supported countless others on their path towards breastfeeding success. With a constant belief in the power of birthing people she brings confidence and empowerment to each and every unique family in all types of birth. She serves on the board of The Childbirth Collective and the Optimal Outcomes in Reproductive Health Conference. Nicole completed her masters degree in Nursing at the University of Minnesota and is currently a labor and delivery nurse and IBCLC. 

Michelle Chiezah, MA, MPH is the State’s Infant Mortality Consultant/Specialist at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). At MDH, Michelle provides statewide leadership around infant mortality reduction and manages the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative. The Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative provides resources, education, information, and technical assistance to local public health agencies, state agencies,Tribal governments, and community-based organizations to improve birth outcomes. A major focus of Michelle’s work is to reduce disparities in infant mortality by researching, planning, coordinating, implementing, and evaluating interventions and activities using the most current data, best practices, and promising strategies. Michelle currently serves on several committees and advisory groups tasked with improving birth outcomes and reducing infant mortality in Minnesota, including Minnesota Department of Health’s Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) Review Committee, Ramsey County Birth Equity Community Council (BECC), and the state’s Child Mortality Review Panel.

Helen Jackson Lockett-El is a Community Engagement Planner in the Center for Health Equity (CHE) at the Minnesota Department of Health. She coordinators a project looking at infant mortality among U.S.-born African Americans in Hennepin County through a health equity lens. She has over 20 years of community engagement experience working to facilitate and promote health and well-being, several years as a chaplain in trauma centers and is actively involved in Grief and Loss facilitation.

LaSherion McDonald, Health Educator, CHW, CPE/Doula has a passion for serving residents of Saint Paul-Ramsey County and more specifically, the African American Community. LaSherion is a Parents as Teachers (c) parent educator currently serving communities who experience higher rates of infant mortality. 

Tamiko Ralston, BSN, LPCC has over twenty years experience in working with families and communities through direct service patient care, home visiting and community-based outreach and engagement. Tamiko has been employed at Saint Paul-Ramsey Public Health for 17 years. In her current role as Public Health Nurse Clinician/Supervisor in the Family Health Division, she supervises a team of Public Health Nurses and Health Educators who provide home visiting services to families with children 0-5 years. Tamiko also co-leads the Birth Equity Community Council (BECC) and has helped to develop the Club Mom, Club Dad, and Doulas for Dads programs in collaboration with community residents and stakeholders in birth equity. She is a member of the African American Advisory Council of ICHRP (Integrated Care for High Risk Pregnancies) and the U of MN Medical School's Programs in Health Disparities Research Advisory Board. 

Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra has been a Childbirth Attendant for over 20 years and is the Director of the Community Care Giving System/Health Systems Navigator with the Cultural Wellness Center where she supports individuals who are interacting with the health care system. In 2013, she received her certification as a Community Outreach Perinatal Educator, and in 2014, received certification to be a Perinatal Education Trainer for the Commonsense Childbirth School of Midwifery School, in Winter Garden, Florida.

Retu Saxena, MD grew up in Brookings, South Dakota.  She did her undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Minnesota, as well graduated from medical school from the University of Minnesota.  After medical school she did her internship and residency in internal medicine at OHSU in Portland, Oregon.  She stayed in Portland and completed a critical care fellowship as well.  Her cardiology fellowship was completed at University of New Mexico where she stayed on as faculty.  During her time at University of New Mexico, she was actively involved with managing and practicing at the UNM women’s heart clinic.  She then moved to MN to work with the region’s largest women’s heart clinic at the time.  She eventually directed the echocardiography laboratory at her prior organization.  She now is a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute.  Her interests are women and heart disease, cardio pregnancy, prevention and noninvasive imaging as well as cardiac critical care.  She is also the mother of two active girls, an avid reader, a passionate gardener and potter.

Jayne Conley Braun, LICSW is a licensed independent clinical social worker and currently the Director of Clinical Services at St Joseph’s Hospital. Her position includes supervision of social workers, licensed alcohol and drug counselors including clinical guidance and supervision. Jayne is also responsible for programming on the in-patient mental health and substance use disorder units. Jayne is trained as an EMDR therapist with specialized training in both trauma informed care and person center thinking modalities. Prior to St Joe’s, Jayne has worked in both adult and adolescent programs for over 29 years providing services to people with mental health and substance use disorders in both an administrative and clinical capacity.

AJ Abney, MD is a pediatrician and pediatric hospitalist at Fairview Ridges Hospital and The University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital where he has been working for the past 2 years. His interests are in QI work, and trauma informed care as well as education of residents, PA students and NP students. He is currently implementing the Eat, Sleep, Console evaluation tool at the Masonic Children’s Hospital. He went to medical school at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, and trained in pediatrics at the University of Louisville Norton Children’s Hospital. 

Beth Cronk, RN, IBCLC has been a postpartum RN at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital since 2007 and an IBCLC since 2011. She is passionate about ensuring women, both in and out of the hospital, have the support and education they need to meet their infant feeding goals. 

Ann Marie Gilligan, RN, SANE-A, LNC, Prenatal Yoga Instructor, SpBAP is a Registered Nurse with 30 years experience in OB. From providing care in a local birth center to working in high risk hospitals, she has assisted in thousands of births to date. She is also a Legal Nurse Consultant, Prenatal Yoga Instructor, SANE-A, and a SpBAP. The variety of skills obtained from these various vocations have taught her that the most important thing in regards to providing the safest, shortest, simplest birth is to acknowledge and correct the position of the fetus in relation to the maternal spine, prior to and during labor.  Over the last decade, Ann has witnessed, with the rise of the computer and women sitting for longer periods of time, the "optimal fetal position" of left occiput anterior has become rare, especially in the primigravida. Fetal malposition is associated with a high risk of instrumental birth, cesarean section, IV Pitocin, severe perineal lacerations and maternal blood loss of >500cc. Ann has created an algorithm that is being used at United hospital in St. Paul, that has been successful in assisting the infant into the optimal position using maternal mobility and hydrotherapy. She will be talking about historical changes of birth in regards to fetal malposition, anatomy and physiology of the female pelvis and fetal skull, her algorithm and how to use it, and ways in which you can promote the "optimal fetal position" prior to term.

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