'Kit' Bond honored for aiding Bethlehem hospital

An honor former U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond received Nov. 12 from the Order of Malta is nice, he said, but the real reward is knowing the difference that has been made in cutting infant mortality rates.

Bond and his wife, Linda, were recognized Nov. 12 by the Order of Malta for national leadership in improving, expanding and assisting the Holy Land's primary hospital for women and infant children, Holy Family Hospital, based in Bethlehem. The hospital is just 500 yards from the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Bond said he took the initiative because of the tragic infant mortality rate in the West Bank. "The real heroes and heroines are the people who man Holy Family Hospital, a beacon of hope in a conflict-stricken area," he said. "As I understand, infant mortality rates were over 30 percent in Bethlehem. Now, even with high-risk infants, it's 3 percent or less. That's one of the really heart-warming things I've been able to work on."

He had worked during his first term as Missouri governor to boost high-risk care at places such as SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and St. Louis Children's Hospital, "and I know what a difference that made. The more I got into this, the more important I found it to be. It was a very easy sell among my colleagues, Republican and Democrat. I hope they take some pride in it too."

In areas of conflict, he said, "you can win a lot more hearts if you use humanitarian outreach -- health care, jobs, education. ... I was happy to go to bat for Holy Family Hospital. It's a great partnership."

The Order of Malta is the fourth oldest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church and a staunch advocate for Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. The lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature, is known for its medical and humanitarian efforts.

The former senator, a Presbyterian who said religious and political affiliations shouldn't come into play on such worthwhile projects, led bipartisan efforts in 2005 to forge a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Catholic hospital. This partnership has led to the USAID providing $6.4 million for critical improvements and quality maternal and child health services -- especially for high-risk pregnancies and newborns -- at Holy Family Hospital.

Holy Family Hospital provides medical care regardless of nationality, religious affiliation or ability to pay.

Bond was presented with one of the Order's highest recognition of laypeople, the Cross of Grand Officer "Pro Merito Melitensi" of the Order of Malta. Established in 1920, the award is a knightly order of merit and has been given to individuals in recognition of their service on behalf of the poor and the sick. Previous conferees include President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush.

Linda Bond was also awarded one of the Order's highest awards, the Cross with Plaque "Pro Merito Melitensi" of the Sovereign Order of Malta, for her commitment to Holy Family Hospital.

Ellen Schlafly Shafer, chairwoman of the Holy Family Hospital-Bethlehem Foundation, said in a news release about the award that Bond's efforts "helped improve maternal health and child care in the Holy Land have made a genuine difference in the lives of countless families. His work in this area should be a model and inspiration for other public servants."

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