Changing Lives One Step at a Time

Sometimes, the simplest thing can be the most life-changing. For Karen Sweet, it was reading a 1985 New York Times article about Deborah Frank, MD, a Baltimore-born pediatrician at BMC dedicated to helping children struggling to meet their height and weight requirements. Moved by the article and eager to meet a fellow passionate Baltimorean, Karen called Frank, who encouraged her to visit the Grow Clinic to see the work firsthand.

“Debbie took me into the clinic, and I observed her examine a tiny 3-year-old girl. I had an 18-month-old baby at home myself, and the two were the same weight,” she recalls.

Karen Sweet accepting the inaugural Marilyn Meyerhoff Equity Award in October 2023.

That experience deeply impacted Karen, revealing the deep-rooted inequities that can undermine children’s futures. She began volunteering at the Grow Clinic and became actively involved in fundraising initiatives for Boston Medical Center. Her passion for health equity accelerated into advocacy through Children’s HealthWatch, a BMC-affiliated organization that uses research to help inform state and federal policy. As part of the advisory board, she is particularly proud of the organization’s work to expand the child tax credit, which helped reduce hunger among U.S. families by 25 percent.

“When you pass a piece of national legislation, you affect the lives of not a few thousand, but millions of children. The impact is massive in scale,” Karen emphasizes.

Last October, in honor of her dedication, Children’s HealthWatch presented Karen with the inaugural Marilyn Meyerhoff Equity Award. The award is named after Karen’s late mother, who ardently supported Boston Medical Center with her daughter to ensure the community had access to exceptional care.

“My mother was a cancer survivor who received very good care throughout her life,” Karen says. “She felt everyone should have access to excellent health care. At BMC, I’ve seen how every advancement, every step forward, has the power to change lives. Pursuing health equity continues to be the driving force behind my work.”

Thirty-seven years after first volunteering at the Grow Clinic, Karen and her husband, Bob, have only increased their involvement in raising awareness and support for BMC. Bob now serves as a member of the Board of the BMC Health System and the WellSense Health Plan, among other assignments. They believe that philanthropy is an essential fuel for innovation at the hospital, allowing doctors and staff to expand on what a healthcare system can be. The couple is excited about the hospital’s forward-thinking work, particularly its focus on upstream drivers of health and economic justice. In its quest to improve community health, BMC is innovating programs in workforce development, affordable housing, and financial coaching.

“It’s not just poking needles in people and dispensing pills,” shares Bob. “BMC is confronting the conditions in the community and our society that interfere with people being healthy and trying to figure out, well, what can we do about that?”

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