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Meet our Presenters

Becky Cypher, MSN, PNNP is a proven nursing leader with over 30 years of front-line perinatal nursing experience, which includes a 20-year Air Force career. After serving in a variety of nursing and management roles, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to work as a perinatal nurse practitioner in a maternal-fetal medicine division. She focused on high risk obstetrical care and research.  She is presently the owner of Maternal-Fetal Solutions, a consulting and education service. 

Becky has held multiple leadership positions in the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) including two Board of Directors terms.  She is currently the 2021 Immediate Past President.  Being passionate about her profession and education, she lectures on a variety of obstetric topics, is actively involved in conducting clinical research and is published in many peer reviewed journals and textbooks.  She is an editorial board member for the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing and a reviewer for Nursing for Women’ Health. Becky is also co-author of Mosby's Pocket Guide to Fetal Monitoring: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 

Rebecca Hesse is a Registered Nurse in the Infection Prevention Department at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has provided support to the Allina Mother Baby Clinical Service Line on COVID related topics such as PPE, patient cohorting, isolation, lab testing, and education documents.  She has been an Infection Preventionist for 5 years.  Her other Infection Prevention endeavors include: CAUTI (Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infection) prevention, Intensive Care unit support, Data compilation and reporting, and Surgical Site infection surveillance.  Her past nursing experience includes public health, school nursing and research.

Becky Gams, MS, APRN, BC-WHNP obtained her BSN at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and her Masters of Science from the University of Minnesota. She has over 30 years of obstetrical nursing experience as a bedside nurse, education specialist and is currently an Advanced Practice Nurse Leader for the Women's and Children's Service Line at MHealth Fairview. She is one of the founding members and current co-lead with Dr. Phillip Rauk of the Zero Birth Injury Initiative at MHealth Fairview, a perinatal safety initiative aimed at reducing preventable birth injuries to both mother and baby.  She is a member of the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) Perinatal Advisory Team and the MHA Hypertension Perinatal Quality Committee.  She received the Visionary Nurse Leader Award at the University of MN Medical Center May 2016 and was a finalist for the March of Dimes Nurse of the Year in 2016. She is a long-time member of the leadership and education committee for the Minnesota section of AWHONN and is currently a member of ACOG and ACNM.

Lisa Johnson, MHA, BSN, RN has her Masters in Healthcare Administration from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. She brings 15 years' experience in caring for women and their families in a rural community setting. Lisa is passionate about ensuring all women in Minnesota have access to high quality and safe patient care leading to improved birth outcomes. With a special interest in substance use disorders in pregnancy, she has led programming focusing on ensuring moms and babies are kept together as a family unit. 

Sarah Rucker-Johanson, MSN, RN is a perinatal clinical education specialist, for M Health Fairview. She has 16 years perinatal nursing experience, working for large integrated health systems including Mayo Clinic Health System (Mankato) and Allina Health (Shakopee). Sarah obtained her undergraduate degree in nursing from Winona State University and her Master’s in Nursing Science from Minnesota State University- Mankato.

Sarah is speaking as a patient, who suffered from severe preeclampsia in 2017. She entered the hospital on 7/23 for a medical induction at 37w3d and didn’t return home until August. She will share her birthing story highlighting the clinical data allowing the audience to reflect upon their own nursing practice and how they may have managed the situation.
The overarching questions is: What should a L & D nurse do, when all the OB anti-hypertensive medication have been given and the patient still has elevated blood pressure?

Lindsey had been a Labor and Delivery RN for 10 years when she herself experienced a rapid onset of a 105 fever at 34 weeks pregnant. After initial assessment and treatment, she had returned home when a few hours later she began shaking, cramping, and bleeding at home alone. She was ambulanced to the nearest hospital where she received a STAT cesarean for fetal heart tones and placenta abruption. After being unstable for multiple hours following surgery, she then was able to be awoken and extubated, and was then transferred to ICU care, later revealing that she was septic from Strep A infection, which triggered the subsequent abruption and preterm cesarean birth. Mom and baby have had a full recovery following a 2-week NICU stay and 4-day ICU stay.

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 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. 

Dr. Samantha (Sam) A. Sommerness DNP, APRN, CNM began her nursing career in 1993 in the care of woman and children in the US Army. Her professional nursing practice is diverse as she holds a certification as a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), spent 6 years in the United States Army as a labor and delivery nurse and was deployed to Bosnia for 1 year during Operation Joint Endeavor. Sam is a passionate educator and health care consultant and has held a variety of positions. From 2007-2014, she spent 7 years developing obstetrical care models for health systems. She has been a faculty and facilitator for a national project for AHRQ’s Safety Program for Perinatal Care where over 50 hospitals enrolled to improve patient safety, team communication, and quality of care for mothers, and their newborns within labor and delivery units. Since 2015, Sam has been a fulltime educator and serves as a Clinical Associate Professor for the University Of Minnesota School of Nursing. She has received several awards. To note, she was the March of Dimes Advanced Practice Nurse of the Year in 2013 and in 2011, she received the Sandra R. Edwardson Award for Excellence in Doctor of Nursing Practice Leadership Projects at the University of Minnesota for her project to standardize second-stage labor care. Lastly she is the recipient of the Daisy Award at the School of Nursing for exceptional mentorship in 2020. Sam has held a variety of positions in AWHONN. She served on the 2018 AWHONN National Program Committee.  She was Chair for the Minnesota section (2012-2014), and has been involved in the Minnesota Section Committee in both conference planning and education since 2008.  She is currently in her second year in of the PhD program, speaks nationally on perinatal safety, her doctoral work and is a published author.

Ann Marie Gilligan, RN, SANE-A, LNC, Evidence Based Birth ® Instructor, 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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