Helping High-Risk Moms & Babies

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Dr. Mary Pell Abernathy

Did you know your donation to Riley could help save a baby’s life?

Donors are making a tremendous impact on Riley right now by helping us expand our team that takes care of expectant mothers with high-risk pregnancies.

Riley Children’s Foundation has identified Maternity and Newborn Health as one of the top priorities of Be the Hope NOW: The Campaign for Kids. 

  • One of our goals is ending the shortage of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialists (also known as MFMs) in Indiana. 
  • These highly-trained obstetricians specialize in taking care of high-risk expectant mothers who have complicated pregnancies. 
  • Thanks to donors’ generosity, our team of Riley MFMs has grown from two to 10. 
  • In addition to taking care of expectant mothers at five locations in the Indianapolis and Bloomington areas, Riley MFMs train physicians at hospitals and clinics across Indiana. 
  • Riley Maternal-Fetal Medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and genetic counselors completed more than 13,000 patient visits in 2018.

Today, we are proud to introduce you to one of the Riley Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialists, Mary Pell Abernathy, M.D., MBA.

Q: Tell us about your background and what drew you to become a physician?

A: I grew up in Avon, just west of Indianapolis. When I was 7 or 8 years old, an elderly man who lived across the street had a heart attack. I remember standing there looking over the front porch door and feeling sort of helpless. I thought, “I should become a physician so I can help people take care of themselves.” At that age, you have the naivety that you can change the world and make it a better place. I still have that naivety to some degree and that helps. 

Q: How did you become interested in taking care of women with high-risk pregnancies?

A: As I went through medical training, my second rotation was Ob/Gyn. There was a professor, the late Dr. Robert Munsick, who opened my eyes to the things we can do. I noticed sometimes our maternal patients can be very sick, but in a few days with proper care, they are back on their feet. I thought, “Wow, this is a population we actually can make a difference with, not only in their life but in the life of their child.” I gravitated toward those types of patients and I kind of got hooked. I also had some excellent mentors who cared about their patients―the kinds of physicians I envisioned becoming when I was a little girl. I began practicing maternal-fetal medicine in 1996. Even on down days, I have never felt I should have chosen a different path. 

Q: How are things going at the Riley Maternal-Fetal Medicine Clinic in Bloomington?

A: The clinic in Bloomington opened in March of 2017. We have excellent facilities, and we see patients three days a week. Most of them are referred to us from Bloomington physicians, but we also see patients from Terre Haute, Vincennes, and as far as Greensburg and Columbus. The majority of our patients can deliver locally, but we offer that added expertise and can work with their local physicians. When we identify patients who need to deliver in Indianapolis because of the level of their complications, we help coordinate their care. 

Q: What is it like being a part of the Riley Maternity and Newborn Health team at this moment in history, with the team expanding rapidly and a new labor and delivery unit under construction at Riley Hospital?

A: I think it’s an exciting time. I think any time you improve services for women in Indiana you’re going to automatically improve services for their children. We’re working with communities to identify risk factors or unhealthy behaviors that increase the risk of infant and maternal mortality. 

Q: For donors who support Riley Maternity and Newborn Health, how do you describe the impact they are making on mothers and babies?

A: The impact will be working together to decrease our high infant mortality rate and our maternal mortality rate. Along with saving lives, we will help bring more economic development to Indiana. When you look at the 600 infant deaths that occur per year in Indiana, about 45-50 percent are due to perinatal risk factors―characteristics we might have been able to have an impact on such as smoking, untreated hypertension, diabetes, lack of prenatal care. Those are things we can identify and modify, and that is going to improve the health of all Hoosiers and save the lives of infants.

Watch our inspiring videos or make a gift in support of Riley Maternity and Newborn Health at

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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