Dr. Russell Suda Receives Karen W. Ponder Leadership Award

Substance Use Network (SUN Project) founder, Dr. Russell Suda, was awarded the 2022 Karen W. Ponder Leadership Award by the North Carolina Partnership for Children during a special ceremony on May 24, 2022 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Concord, NC where community partners, patients, and leaders gathered to celebrate this honor. Patients who had successfully turned their lives around shared how Dr. Suda had supported them in their recovery journey as he stood next to them holding their baby. A representative from Senator Thom Tillis’ office came and read a letter congratulating Dr. Suda and Cabarrus county for this work and honor.

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Patients who had successfully turned their lives around shared how Dr. Suda supported them in their recovery journey.

The Karen W. Ponder Leadership Award was created in honor of a former president of Smart Start, Karen W. Ponder, and is presented annually to one local partnership nominee. All 100 counties are eligible to submit nominations but only one recipient is selected. This award recognizes exceptional leadership which has resulted in bettering the lives of young children and families across North Carolina. It recognizes the contribution of community volunteers (advocates, civic leaders, faith leaders, etc.). Nominees must exemplify a passionate commitment to the vision of a stronger community for children and families and have the ability to lead and inspire others in pursuit of that vision.

Russell Suda, MD, FACOG was nominated for the Karen W. Ponder Leadership Award because of his leadership and commitment to changing the culture of providers, agencies, and communities towards pregnant mothers with a substance use disorder. This has earned him the reputation of being a 'culture warrior' by statewide perinatal quality improvement teams. He is not only impacting the lives of the mothers and children he treats but also communities around the nation who look to his work as a model for collaborative systems building for this highly stigmatized and vulnerable population.

Dr. Suda has practiced medicine for over 30 years as an obstetrician. He has focused his efforts on changing the disparate care received by some of his most vulnerable patients. As the creator and founder of the SUN Project, Dr. Suda's vision was to develop a cross-sector collaborative system of compassionate care that uses best practices to support the health, safety, wellbeing and recovery of pregnant patients with a substance use disorder, their infants, and families. His ultimate goal is to support the mother-baby dyad in our communities by positively leveraging pregnancy as a motivator for change rather than the previous and more common approach of shaming these mothers.

The SUN Clinic, in partnership with the SUN Collaboration Project, supports each mother through the pregnancy so she can have a full-term healthy baby and then during the first year postpartum, extending adjunctive medical, behavioral and social service support to assist with the stress which all babies present for a mother during that first year. The aim is to foster a bonding love that will keep mother in recovery and baby in a low Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) family environment through adolescence.

Since the launch of the SUN Project, the program has served 40 patients and more than 90% have delivered their babies at full-term or at 35+ weeks.

Congratulations, Dr. Suda!

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