A few weeks after arriving in the U.S. from Central America, a mother gave birth to a baby girl with a neural tube (brain and spine) defect. The local hospital where she was born transferred her to our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Our staff suggested the mom, who had no local family or friends, schedule her daughter’s primary care with a bilingual provider at our Columbia Heights location.

“When we first met, she was very defeated and alone,” says Katherine Sierra, a family service associate who uses her bilingual skills to build relationships and support parents with children under 3 years old. She connects families with community and healthcare resources to help them with issues such as food insecurity, unemployment and difficulties related to legal status.

“A lot of new parents come to me very stressed,” says Katherine, the daughter of immigrants who understands the struggles and mental health challenges they might face. “I know what it’s like. At Children’s National, we want all families to have a voice and feel safe, including those who don’t speak English.”

While the baby received outpatient care, Katherine helped the mother order a birth certificate, get insurance, sign up for public benefits and navigate the hospital system. “I felt so much compassion for her,” Katherine says. “She was working hard to get help for her daughter. Having my support meant she could focus on being a mom.”

A year later, the baby’s father has reunited with his wife and daughter, now a year old. Katherine says the mom doesn’t need her help much anymore, but they stay in touch. “This is the power of bilingual care,” Katherine says. “Now she knows how to advocate for her family. The baby is healthy and beautiful and they never miss a therapy or check-up appointment.”


A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.