Georgia is one of the most dangerous places in the country for maternal health. The state ranks 50th, dead last for maternal mortality, which means more pregnant women and new mothers die in Georgia than in any other state.

Doctors at Augusta University health are trying to improve maternal health in Georgia. Dr. Marlo Vernon just got more funding for her pregnancy care app and we talked to her about it on Wednesday.

“I’m a mom of 5,” says Dr. Vernon, an assistant professor in Cancer Control, Prevention, and Population Health in the Georgia Cancer Center.

Health for moms and babies is more than just part of Dr. Vernon’s job. The topic is her passion.

“My cousin passed away 3 and a half years ago. She was 38 weeks pregnant and she woke up with a terrible headache. A chronic headache that doesn’t go away is an early symptom of preeclampsia. By the time they got her to the hospital, it was too late. They were able to save her baby, but not Caitlyn.”

Now, Dr. Vernon is working on an app to help mothers, especially those far from a hospital, communicate with their doctors.

“We are looking to develop a simple way for moms to interact with their providers and to monitor their blood pressure, their weight and their mental health during pregnancy and through the first year post-partum,” Dr. Vernon explains. “If a mom sends us a measurement that’s above certain metrics, she gets a notification to contact her physician and her physician also gets that notification.”

Dr. Vernon points out that many of the precursors for some serious conditions mimic typical pregnancy symptoms.

“For preeclampsia and hypertension related issues, a lot of the symptoms are normal with pregnancy– headaches, feeling unwell, nausea, vomiting, stomach aches that you could contribute to false labor, blurred vision. Those are all symptoms that you could explain away,” Dr. Vernon says.

Vida app developed by Augusta University researcher

Her idea for the Vida app won first place in an innovation competition called the Remote Pregnancy Monitoring Grand Challenge. She has won $35,000 so far and has the potential to win $150,000 more in the final phase. The money will pay for her to continue to develop the app that she hopes will saves lives in the future.

“So many moms don’t recognize the symptoms so just being able to educate the community and educate women so that they can reach out and share this information and watch out for their friends and their family,” says Dr. Vernon.

Dr. Vernon will find out the results of the final phase of the competition in May of this year. NewsChannel 6 is rooting for Dr. Vernon to take home the grand prize so she can continue to change lives!