Category Archives: Success Stories

Client Success Story – Melanie


Melanie with Amani Rose

“2001, I was sitting a at a stop light. All of a sudden, I heard screeching tires and looked in my rear view mirror just in time to brace my hands on the steering wheel for impact. A 19 year old kid playing with his radio rear ended me doing 35 mph. Ouch. I did the normal routine of getting an x-ray, MRI, exam, etc. At the time I was working on Siesta Key at a great little resort, my high school sweetie/hubby and I owned our home, and we had a beautiful little girl named Alexis, who was 4 at the time. My husband was the finance director at dealership, and we loved going on cruises! (As a matter of fact we got married on a cruise ship!!)

Life was good. Pain was bad. We both went to the “pain management” doctor to see what we could do to “manage” our pain… [My husband] was prescribed pills right from the start. I chose to do the massage therapy, acupuncture and cortisone shots instead. After about a year, when my methods stopped being quite as effective, I asked him for one of his pills. I remember the day clearly. I was a wedding coordinator at the resort and had a HUGE wedding coming up that weekend, and still had TONS of “to-do’s” that were yet to be checked off. Not even thinking twice, I broke the pill in half, took half that morning and away I went. (Who has time to be in pain when you have a Bridezilla and her Mother to deal with right?!)

By noon I felt like Superwoman. No pain, no numb leg, no worries! By 5:00 I was starting to hurt, then I remembered I had the other half of the pill in my pocket! I was able to finish my day with NO pain, TONS of energy, picked my daughter up from my Mom’s house, went grocery shopping, cooked dinner and by 9pm I still felt great! All from ONE little pill…

This went on for months, and eventually I was able to get my own prescription for the same medications. I felt invincible. I could do it ALL and not feel the pain caused from that accident. Time went on. My husband went from Finance Director and changed fields to become a Realtor. Landed his first job selling million dollar homes. More vacations, more nice things, bigger house, nicer cars, boats, we had it all. In our eyes, we were living “The Dream”…What we didn’t realize, or maybe we weren’t ready to admit, is that our dependency on these pills had now become an addiction. Tolerance levels went up. [We] had to have more. So we went to another doctor to get more. Simple, right? Yes. But also very illegal.

Fast forward to 2008, I got pregnant with my now 6 year old son, Anthony. Still addicted to opiates. My beautiful little boy was born addicted as well. Of course, DCF stepped in and took him from me. I was so far gone in my addiction that I didn’t even WANT help. I felt like a piece of trash, that baby boy deserved better. And I couldn’t give him the life he deserved because of my addiction. Oh, did I mention my daughter was placed with my mother about a year prior to my son being born BECAUSE of my addiction? I couldn’t even stay clean long enough to complete my case plan. I had given up on life, I had no hope. Plenty of money, but NO HOPE. I had stopped going to church, my faith was at an all time low, right along with my self esteem. I didn’t have my kids, So what was the point of trying to get clean???

Then it happened…..July 29, 2010…I woke up to the sun shining in my bedroom window, wiggled myself out of my hubby’s arms (he loved to snuggle!) got up to get a drink and when I walked back into my bedroom and looked at my husband, he was dead. Gone. I felt light headed and woozy. I think I screamed for his cousin (who lived with us at the time) and I don’t remember much else that day other than me begging the coroner to let him stay with me… I started bargaining with God, if he would just let Mark breathe I PROMISED to not touch another pill ever again, I had already lost my 2 babies, but now I lost the man I had been with for the last 22 YEARS of my life, my soulmate, my BEST FRIEND, my rock. Gone in a flash.

So tragedies like this would normally make someone open their eyes and see the light, right? Nope. Now I REALLY had nothing to live for. I tried to overdose many times after that horrific day. Every time I would write a goodbye letter to my kids, my family and then when I would wake up ALIVE the next morning I couldn’t believe it. GODS GOT JOKES!!!! I was supposed to die too..But I didn’t. I went to rehab after getting caught for doctor shopping. The Judge had mercy on me, since I had never been in ANY trouble before, he sentenced me to The Salvation Army rehab and 2 years probation. [I] completed rehab successfully, and the tools I learned there changed me for the better. But with only ONE MONTH left of probation, I violated by taking prescription pain pills for a dental issue. So I was sentenced to Drug Court. Fast forward to me getting pregnant while in drug court…

PREGNANT?? ME??? No, you must be mistaken. I’m almost 40 years old…That’s when I realized my purpose. It was there all along. My children. And now this blessing from God above (whom we call Amani Rose!)… Of course, because of my past with opiate addiction, DCF was alerted that I was pregnant. This time, I held my head high and proud, and GLADLY peed in that cup for them (which I had to do EVERY DAY for my ENTIRE pregnancy while in drug court anyway)… Because of the open DCF case, Healthy Start contacted me to see “how they could be of help” to me while I was pregnant.
Ohhhhh no…Everyone “knows” Healthy Start works hand in hand with DCF! I wanted nothing to do with them at first. Then I met Shavon. She explained her role in my pregnancy, how she could actually HELP me and my little family, and assured me that she had my and my unborn child’s best interests at heart. I was still leery….I prayed about it. I asked God to guide me in the right direction. The very next day I signed up as a client of Healthy Start! I had nothing to hide, and nothing to lose!! What harm could it do??? I did my research, I talked to other Moms who were also clients. I had such a GOOD feeling in my heart about Healthy Start. . Don’t forget, I was about 7 months pregnant at this point, living at my Dad’s house, with NO AC in August, no car, no job and nowhere to bring our baby home to!! Before I knew it, Shavon was helping me and my partner with getting funds to move into our own little place!!
It was EXACTLY the help we needed to get the ball rolling in a positive direction….We moved in, and 2 weeks later our beautiful 14lb 2oz baby girl was born!! Thanks to Healthy Start we had a HOME, a SAFE PLACE to bring our baby to!! It took a few weeks to get on our feet, but we were offered SO MANY incredible services through Healthy Start!! We were able to buy a minivan a few months after our daughter was born…Of course, our case with DCF was closed successfully and our family continues to thrive. EVERY chance I get, I explain Healthy Start’s mission, I explain what they have to offer, I try to educate every pregnant woman I know on ways Healthy Start can help her and her unborn baby! Even AFTER Amani was born, and came home (with a Mic-Key button due to not wanting to eat orally) Shavon came over to see if I needed breastfeeding assistance, or formula, or referrals to other agency’s for furniture and clothes…The list is endless. My gratitude is NEVER GOING TO END! I love Healthy Start and EVERYTHING it represents!!
Most recently I was able to explain to a very scared young pregnant woman who is battling addiction that HS can HELP her AND her unborn son. I gave her the number, I even drove her down to the office to meet with her counselor. I want every woman, every family to know EXACTLY what Healthy Start is and how wonderful they are!!!!
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Client Success Story: Meagan McMullem

Posted August 31, 2015

“An unplanned pregnancy is a challenge in it self. When you add to that raising two older children (one of which was diagnosed with autism) and a lack of a true support system, you panic! I was embarrassed that I had found myself in this position. However, I was willing to embrace the challenge and come out stronger.

This pregnancy was met with many obstacles including the emotional death of my Dad to pancreatic cancer. For awhile I lost focus of the bright side. I was already struggling. How was I going to make this happen? How was I going to hold it all together? Am I making the right choice or being selfish?

Luckily, for me, I had [my Healthy Start Care Coordinator] Jennifer! Jennifer could walk into my home visits and completely turn things around. She had an uncanny ability to get me back on track. Slowly mounds of pressure were relieved. Somehow every time she would give me a lead they worked out, which is not common for me.

I was also connected with [Healthy Start Counselor] Chip. An amazing man who could bring me down a few levels. He talked me thru the night my Dad passed and allowed for frequent “check ins”. I found a breast feeding class in which I earned a pack and play. There were also countless social service organizations that I was able to establish assistance with.

Let me not forget, the use of a maternity photo on the front cover of Healthy Start brochures which are recognized around the area. Rather than boast about it sighting these brochures reminds me that I represent the good that comes from Healthy Start. My struggle, my hour of need, is used to bring hope to other mothers who feel overwhelmed during pregnancy. Those who chose to hold themselves accountable but just need the opportunity for a support system to shine it’s light. I see the brochures and I am humbled. My struggle is real but how I proceed to handle it is being observed. I’m a role model for those who too seek out the support of healthy start.

I’m reminded of a quote from my Dad which I have taken as his greatest lesson, “The way to find success is to give up yourself and give to others. . . . Go out of your way to benefit your fellow man, and the return is phenomenal.”. I live every day with this concept close to my heart!” – Meagan McMullem

Meagan was photographed by local Photographer, Peter Acker, and featured in the Healthy Start Coalition’s new “Guide to Programs” brochure.

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Client Success Story: Tiffany – Smoke free and giving her baby a Healthy Start!

Tiffany2015Posted August 24, 2015

“Life is difficult”. This quote from psychologist M. Scott Peck might sound like a huge understatement to a young woman struggling through her teen years but it was true for 25 year old Tiffany. Pregnant at 18 years old, and needing but not getting adequate guidance at home, she was seeking comfort where she could find it.
“I started smoking around age 15,” she says. At that age most young smokers see only the illusion of a cigarette’s lure. Never do they really confront the reality that, among other truths, cigarette smoking is the #1 preventable cause of death in our country. “I tried to quit but it never worked! I’d start up again in a couple of days.” Then came her entrance into using drugs.
In February of 2015 she came to the Mothers and Infants program at First Step of Sarasota County. Pregnant again, and smoking, she would need to learn more about the hazards of smoking and learn some new and powerful techniques to manage cravings and emotional triggers if she was to truly conquer her addictions.
Chip Schaaff is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who is in his 20th year of working with the Healthy Start Program of Sarasota County. In the past, he provided mental health counseling as well as smoking cessation to Healthy Start clients. As a result of financial cut-backs at the state level, however, he no longer can provide the counseling so many of his Healthy Start mothers need, but he does continue smoking cessation and relapse prevention to pregnant women and new mothers.
“Tiffany was a good example of a woman who wanted to do the right thing for her baby but didn’t know how,” he said. “The first step is always to provide education about the harmful effects of smoking to all parts of the body and especially to fetal development.” But knowing the facts is not usually enough to change behavior; how to manage the physical triggers such as stress or cravings also needs to be learned.

Tiffany began to accept new information that was presented and to use new techniques to manage her emotions and her thinking. She learned deep breathing – sometimes called the “relaxation response” – and additional ways to focus her mind with mindful meditation. Tiffany shared, “I honestly used the meditating technique I learned in [Chip’s] class during my C-section. I was there alone because I went into labor early so I went to a calm state where I have honestly never been more relaxed. I almost fell asleep and then I heard my baby cry!”
Now, Tiffany has been smoke-free for 4 months and she is successfully breastfeeding her 1 month old daughter. Fear of what smoking could have done and where her life might have gone is replaced by something new and wonderful: confidence in herself and hope for her future.

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Client Success Story: Baby Collin

ClientStory714“Healthy Start helped me tremendously. I am 100% breast feeding and I love it. At first I felt weird about it but Miss Jeanie helped me. I go have pizza with her every week, it’s not the pizza, but just talking with her and the encouragement is so great. I had to have a c-section and I was so scared. Mr Chip helped me with meditation, breathing and getting to my happy place. And I remembered everything he taught me. When I went in for the surgery I looked at the lights and went to my happy place.
I hope to get a good job, work hard and have a great life. I want to give my baby the love and care he needs and be a great mom!” – Siobhan C, mom of baby Collin

“My daughter went through Healthy Start & always gave positive, positive feedback. She learned how to be healthy, and how to keep Collin healthy. We had talked to her about breast feeding but Healthy Start are the ones who really got her to do it and be successful. I know breast feeding is good in the long run. She did quit smoking. She always talked about the goals that if she reached them there would be little rewards like gift cards and tokens. She always talks about Healthy Start and I hope she keeps using the things that she learned from Healthy Start. It has helped her bond with her child. It has been a blessing for her to have this team.” – Colleen C, grandmother

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Success Stories


“It takes a community to raise a baby”, says Shannon, first-time mom and Healthy Start client.

Shannon’s son, Alex, was born with Congenital Muscular Torticollis (CMT), a condition that causes shortening of the neck muscles, and makes it difficult for a baby to turn its head. Babies born with CMT are at an increased risk for delay in motor-skill development, and need extra care to prevent serious, long-term side effects.

Even before Alex was born, Shannon and her partner Ryan made an extra effort to have a healthy pregnancy. Shannon and Ryan’s Healthy Start Care Coordinator referred them to free Childbirth Education, Infant CPR, Breastfeeding, and Parenting classes.  “We were determined to do whatever we could to give our baby the best life.” says Shannon. “I looked forward to the classes, and the parent groups made a huge difference.”

At three months old, one of Shannon’s counselors noticed that baby Alex was having trouble moving his head to one side, and shortly after he was diagnosed with CMT. In addition to countless hours of physical therapy, Shannon and Ryan enrolled in “ChildSpace”, a Healthy Start parenting group led by Barbara Leverone, focused on utilizing touch to support a baby’s development.

“Through touch, parents can help their baby experience movement options that are, in the beginning, unavailable to the baby.” explains Barbara. “They’re really making a big difference. It’s heartwarming to see both a mother and father so completely committed to doing everything they can to help their baby”

Alex’s development is progressing, and his condition is getting better. His mom will never forget how much the community supported her family. “It’s just feels good to have so many people on your side, and so many people who are willing to step out of their way to help you.”



Meghan found herself out of work after telling her employer that she was pregnant with twins.

With no health insurance and unable to find another job while she was pregnant, Meghan was eligible for Medicaid for pregnant women.

At 24 weeks of pregnancy she experienced back pain and a general feeling of unwellness. “I went to the ER and it seemed like they were really quick about getting me back and hooked up, The next thing I know there are six nurses in there, a doctor, and some specialty high risk pregnancy doctors. I had no clue what was going on. And they said, “You are having contractions every 3 minutes and you are already dilated.” So that is when they started me on drugs to hold off the pregnancy.

Prepared for a possible stay of 10 weeks in hospital, Meghan suffered more problems and underwent an emergency cesarean at 26 weeks of pregnancy. She gave birth to two tiny boys, Gavin and Landon.

“A week later the doctor came and told me that I had to make a decision, Gavin was not going to make it; I should take him off the ventilator and hold him in my arms and let him pass. I told the doctor, “I am sorry I cannot do that. He has to stay in the incubator. I have to give him a chance.” So we sat by his bedside 24/7 and just sang to him. And that night he made a turn around, just kept going up. It was quite an experience.”

Meghan pumped breast milk for both babies while they were in the hospital. She brought Landon home at four months. He weighed four pounds. Gavin came home at five months of age. Breast milk provided the best nutrition for her frail babies.

Shelley Rence of Healthy Start encouraged Meghan to pump for her babies. Later she provided baby items such as car seats and made referrals to other agencies like WIC and Early Steps. “I had a great job before but when something unexpected happens, losing my job and having to go on Medicaid, Healthy Start really helped”, she says,  “Somebody out there cared.”

The outlook for Gavin and Landon is good and Meghan expects them to have a normal life.



Kanani, Healthy Start client with daughter age 4; twin girls age 3, and baby boy 10 months.

“I never knew I was having twins. I was told I was having one boy and it turned out to be two girls, two months early. I had an emergency c-section. When I went into (early) labor, they realized it was twins. It was a surprise to us.

Once I knew I was having twins, my husband stayed at home with my 4 year old while I was in the hospital and they expected me to be there for two more months. All of a sudden, my placenta abrupted overnight and an emergency c-section was done. There was no way of getting my husband to the hospital in time. By the time I called him from the hospital next morning, we already had twin girls. Healthy Start was there to connect me with other mothers who had more clothes and blankets.

They (Healthy Start) even helped with diapers. There was so much need from my twins being premature. Healthy Start was very helpful.

By the time we came home from the NICU we had everything (we needed) for the future, thanks to Healthy Start. We received a lot of help. I continued to get home visits. They would do the developmental tests to see if they hit the milestones and if they were on track. I did like that. It made me aware of where the twins should be. Healthy Start referred me to Early Steps. With my twins being premature, there was Early Steps (until age 3). Early Steps came to the house & did exercises with them, making sure they were on track.

After I had my twins, I struggled with post-partum depression. When I had my twins it was tough. It took a lot out of me . As much as I never really wanted to admit it, if it had not been for Healthy Start I am not sure I could have made it through. We (self & husband) have each other but these are people who are professionals and know about these things. I’m glad I knew who to call and I really needed just to talk to my worker. She told me to call that place or this person. I never really wanted to. I would talk to her and I would feel so much better. I would call on a daily basis and then it got to twice a week. She ended up calling me, “What is the matter? Are things OK? I haven’t heard from you.” I said, “Yes, things are getting better now!



Terri is the proud mother of a three year old girl.

Getting there has been a challenge. Terri came to Healthy Start after she had her baby and was having difficulty with breast feeding. She arrived at the Healthy Start office and was shown the correct way to breast feed that day. She says, “It takes a long time to understand how your body works and how the baby works. It takes a lot of support from other people. I know a lot of women have had a hard time with breast-feeding. It’s something so special for you and your child and it’s so healthy for the child. You don’t really know what you are putting into your baby with formula but with breast milk you know.

As a result, she joined the Healthy Start program and accepted home visits from a Healthy Start Care Coordinator. Although Leah was her first baby, her partner had two teenage children, a boy and a girl, who had arrived from Puerto Rico to be with their father. Terri, at the age of twenty four herself, was trying to parent all three. “I had to discipline them and they were not my children. They did not like it at all and it caused a huge conflict in the house. We (the parents) were fighting all the time and the kids were fighting with us.” The Care Coordinator was able to get to know her situation and recommended that the family try counseling. Through Healthy Start, they were enrolled with a bilingual counselor who was able to help with cultural differences.

“The counseling helped me and my partner and the children ended up leaving. They made that choice. They wanted to go back. These were problems that I thought I should be able to care of by myself. Then I realized there are some things you cannot handle by yourself and perhaps you are doing it the wrong way, the hardest way possible. She (counselor) really helped me a lot. And after they left, he and I still went to counseling.”

Healthy Start helped Terri find a group where she and her daughter go for social time (MOPS) at a nearby church. Her Care Coordinator has also encouraged her dream of returning to school. “I would definitely say that Healthy Start is a great program to go through. There are a lot of resources to help people.” This spring, Terri started a program to learn book keeping, a skill she enjoys and that will enable her to have flexible work hours while raising Leah.

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