May 21, 2019

By: VoyageLA Staff


Today we’d like to introduce you to Todd Vradenburg.

Todd, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?

Brave Beginnings started as a program under the Will Rogers Institute. The Will Rogers Institute was the research and training center created at the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital (a tuberculosis sanitarium closed in 1972). WRI focus is funding pulmonary medicine training fellowships and free educational materials about pulmonary diseases and disorders.

In 2006, another charity from the entertainment industry asked us to partner on a grant to fund an incubator for a hospital in Los Angeles. A couple of years later, the Will Rogers Institute Neonatal Ventilator Program was established. In 2015, the WRI Neonatal Ventilator Program was renamed Brave Beginnings. The program is committed to provide funding for all types of lifesaving equipment in NICUs nationwide, not just ventilator equipment.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The road has been relatively smooth; however, every charitable organization must travel an occasional bumpy road and there are always challenges to overcome. Like many charities, our biggest challenge is securing enough funding. Ultimately, our goal is put the Brave Beginnings Program out of business. Once every hospital NICU in the United States has a sufficient amount of equipment needed, Brave Beginnings will consider it a mission accomplished. Each year, we receive grant requests in the range of $5 million to $7 million dollars from approximately 50 hospitals. For the last few years, we have granted an average of $1 million dollars annually to approximately 20 hospitals.

Besides raising additional much-needed funds, our other challenge is educating donors about the need to fund equipment purchases for NICUs across the United States. It’s assumed that a hospital has everything it needs to take care of patients. That is true, however, in the NICU, hospitals can have a need for more equipment or need to replace outdated equipment, so infants don’t just survive but also have a chance to thrive once they leave the NICU. Our goal is to give medical providers the tools they need to help a premature infant finish developing and limit the chances of a life-long disorder or learning disability. Due to the high rate of premature births in the US (1 in 10 babies born), it is important people understand that there is a generation of children dealing with life-long ailments and that has a huge economic impact on our economy.

Brave Beginnings – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?

The mission of Brave Beginnings is simple: to provide hospital NICUs the equipment they need to ensure that every premature infant has a fighting chance at healthy development. Our goal is to someday be able to fulfill every grant request we receive and not delay a grant for a year or two until funds become available. If a hospital has a need, we want to fulfill it.

We are most proud that what started as a small program servicing one hospital has grown to serve 200 hospitals and funded almost $8 million in equipment purchases. And we are extremely proud of the fact that we have helped 176,000 babies in the United States since our start in 2006. More than 20,000 of those babies were born in Southern California hospitals.

As a charity affiliated with the entertainment industry, we are best known as the Will Rogers Institute. Many people know us as the charity that has a public service announcement on the movie screen in the summertime. Unless one reads the fine print of our materials, you may never know that Brave Beginnings is part of the Will Rogers organization. And that’s ok because what sets Brave Beginnings apart from any other charitable organization is that we are the only charitable program exclusively focused on the needs of the neonatal intensive care unit. We join a few other organizations that have a mission to help prevent premature birth or help the parents who need to care for a premature infant, however, we are the only organization trying to provide the healthcare providers with the tools they need to perform the miracles everyone is expecting of them.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?

My proudest moment came when I witnessed a piece of equipment in action to save the life of a premature infant. I was visiting the Children’s Hospital St. Louis and an emergency transport came in from Joplin, Missouri. By the time the baby arrived in St. Louis, the doctor told me that “…this little one had about two more hours and there was probably nothing we could do for him. If we did not have this second transport that you funded, we could not have picked-up this baby in time.” I had the joy of watching the doctor and care team take care of the baby. I also had a chance to speak with the nurse who operates the airborne transport unit. It was a thrill to talk to her about her dedication and desire to help premature infants.









Image Credit:
For the personal photo Todd Vradenburg pictured with NICU Nurse Tori Meskin, Paramount’s Kyle Davies, and Brave Beginnings’ Christina Blumer – photo credit should be attributed to Capture Imaging. All other photos are courtesy Brave Beginnings. FYI: Jennifer Rogers is Will Rogers’ great grand-daughter. She is the blonde woman pictured with Todd in the photo where they are standing in front of a statue of Will Rogers.