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Christy Turlington Burns rose to fame as one of the original supermodels, but these days you won’t find her walking the runway. Instead, she spends her time running in marathons to raise awareness for maternal health care.
“This is where my heart is,” she told TODAY’s Natalie Morales as she prepared for her fifth marathon.
A dozen years ago, Turlington Burns experienced severe postpartum hemorrhaging following the birth of her first child.
The near-death experience led her to seek out information about other women in the world who found themselves in the same position, but without the same access she had to quality health care.
“Once I learned about this, I couldn't unlearn it,” she said. “I felt compelled to try to figure out why and what I could do to change things.”
That led her to launch a nonprofit, Every Mother Counts, which is dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safer around the world.
Without access to quality care, more than 300,000 women die every year from preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the World Health Organization.
That’s the equivalent to one woman every two minutes in countries including Haiti, India and Guatemala.
“The U.S. is one of only 12 countries, or 13 countries actually, that has a rising maternal mortality rate,” she said. “And you look at health care, you look at access and you think, ‘That can't possibly be.’”
Turlington Burns said she runs marathons as a symbolic gesture to the many pregnant women in the world who have to travel great distances to get medical care, often by foot. One such woman is Janet, a mother she met in Tanzania.
“I just have such strong visual memories of her walking, and the hill that I visited her on — just to walk up it without carrying a child is just almost impossible,” Turlington Burns recalled.
“She was about an hour away from the regional hospital. But an hour away when you don't have a car is terrifying.”
Every Mother Counts ended up helping provide transportation for Janet, who ended up having a normal birth.
On Monday, Turlington Burns will be in Massachusetts to participate in the Boston Marathon.
“I’m going to be thinking about Janet and Philomena and Monica, all the women I've met and spent time with. That’s going to be where I draw my strength from,” she said.
“They would think I was crazy to be choosing to do this, I'm sure, but I know they appreciate it and I know it'll make a difference.”
To learn more about Every Mother Counts, visit everymothercounts.org.
Follow Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter at @eunkim.