Sheila Fowlie (middle), while working as a nurse in Samoa.
We would like to introduce the new 'Power to Protect' Coordinator, Sheila Fowlie, who is replacing Grace Shallard. Sheila is passionate about the ‘Power to Protect’ programme previously known as ‘Never Shake a Baby’.
Taking over the role as the National Coordinator for Power to Protect Programme at the end of May 2021, Sheila provides help and assistance to ensure that our health care providers are trained and educated to deliver the ‘Power to Protect Programme’ in all of the District Health Boards in New Zealand, as well as other community agencies that deal with parents who have infants and young children.
“This is to ensure that parents are taught coping skills to deal with incessant crying and the dangers of shaking their baby. It is hoped that universal education of caregivers will lower the incidence of abusive head trauma,” she said.
‘Power to Protect’ is a Ministry of Health Prevention Programme initiative contracted to the Auckland District Health Board. Abusive head trauma, otherwise known as ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’, most often involves brain injury of infants and young children. Brain and head injuries are the most common cause of traumatic death in children under the age of 2. Here in Aotearoa, we admit 20-30 babies with abusive head trauma or shaken baby syndrome per year. One in 5 of those babies will die.
Infant diagnosed with abusive head trauma are only the tip of the iceberg. For every child diagnosed, there is evidence that suggests that up to 150 others may have been shaken or struck around the head. Abusive head trauma is a public health problem that often leads to lifelong poor outcomes in both physical health (neurological deficit, developmental delay, and other forms of physical disability) and psychological health (conduct disorder, higher rates of depression, and substance abuse).
“Our society has a strong ethical and financial obligation to reduce abusive head trauma. Simply for those cases which are diagnosed, the long-term financial cost to New Zealand society is approximately 11.7 million dollars per child. Abusive head trauma is a preventable injury. We, the healthcare professionals can impact the incidence of abusive head trauma by educating caregivers on the dangers of shaking an infant. This initiative or prevention programme should be stressed in all our encounters with whānau/families in both the hospital and community setting,” said Sheila.
Sheila was born and raised in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and although she does not have direct iwi connections here in Aotearoa, she speaks of ‘Kupe - The Great Explorer’ and his people/warriors who passed through the Philippines while navigating across the Pacific Ocean and on to Aotearoa, a millennium ago.
“Some of Tagalog (words) are similar to Māori kupu (words). For example, we say “lima” for five when counting and in Māori, it’s “rima”. Some of our cultural habits and foods are similar too. In Māori, there’s “boil up” and in the Philippines, we have a dish called “nilaga” which literally means “boiled”. You could say that we have some Māori in us Filipinos,” Sheila said.
As a Registered Nurse with a Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Nursing in Health Sciences, Sheila graduated in Wellington with a Bachelor of Nursing. Her first job as a nurse was in CCU in Wellington Hospital. Since then, she has worked for Hutt Valley Health DHB, Counties Manukau DHB, Family Violence Prevention Programme clinical support, Food Challenge Coordinator, Starship Child Health (ADHB) in Paediatric Cardiology then Starship Community Health as the Immunisation Coordinator for School Based Immunisation Programme.
She was also involved in the roll out of the Covid 19 Vaccination Programme in Starship Community and is now working in Puawaitahi- a multi-agency service part of ADHB. The Power to Protect Programme sits under Te Puaruruhau service and Sheila is also an authorised vaccinator and authorised vaccinator assessor.
Sheila’s overall moemoeā (dreams/vision) is to reduce the incidence of abusive head trauma in Aotearoa.
“For now, I’d like the public to have more awareness about the ‘Power to Protect Programme’ and the dangers of shaking a baby. Prevention is the key. All healthcare providers must work together to educate the public. True prevention is not waiting for bad things to happen and put something in place to stop it from happening again. To me, prevention is to prevent the bad things from happening in the first place. Once abusive head trauma happens, there is a lifelong consequence to our tamariki and their whanau and the wider community," said Sheila.
There are six ‘Traumatic Brain Injury’ wānanga happening around the country and Sheila will be presenting about the ‘Power to Protect’ Programme. She is also trying to reach out to the wider community to spread the message about this crucial programme.
Before becoming a nurse, Sheila gained a degree in mass communication, with a major in broadcast communication. She worked organising concerts for international singers such as Gloria Estefan, New Kids on the Block and Barry Manilow.