The Jesse Cause

Like too many people across this nation, Chris and Shelene Keith had never heard of Group B strep (GBS) - until it almost killed their infant son and put him through three life-threatening brain surgeries. They passionately poured their energies into warning other parents about the vital information their obstetricians never told them.

GBS is designated as the number one infectious killer of newborns in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—a distinction that no one disputes. According to the CDC 10,000 babies contracted GBS and 2,000 died annually. The count is much higher then this because GBS was not a reported disease to the hospitals or the coroners offices.. So how, on the brink of the 21st century, is it possible for Shelene Keith or any other woman to sit in her obstetrician’s office and not hear anything about it?

Perhaps more staggering is the fact that there is a $20 test that can often detect the presence of Group B strep, and a treatment of common intravenous antibiotics that can often prevent its ravaging results.

Chris and Shelene Keith were angry when they discovered this. So are thousands of parents nationwide whose babies have been left blind, deaf, retarded or stricken with cerebral palsy. And so are the hundreds to thousands of parents whose babies never made it home at all.

Some were tested, but not treated. Some were treated improperly or not all. But even though one-third of all pregnant women carry this bacteria, few were told about the serious dangers of Group B strep.

Chris Keith is a California based independent recording artist and songwriter who toured for 20 years. He is also a Worship Arts Leader at “The New Beginnings” El Morro Church of the Nazarene in Morro Bay Ca. In 1995, he made the decision to dedicate his song writing and performing to Christian music, developing a full music ministry with his family. In 1997, Chris and his family were commissioned by their church for their music ministry. After that they all went to Nashville to produce Chris' first CD "To the Cross" Chris’ producer is famous Nashville guitarist and producer Pat McGrath, and his vocal producer is Nashville’s own amazing Michelle Rodgers-Mcgrath. They were blessed to have some of the best players in the world play on their 3 CD's.

Chris is coming out with his long awaited 4th CD in the fall of 2012. Wife Shelene is his manager, books their concerts, promotes his CDs and joins him onstage as a sign language performance artist. Daughter Tayler sings a duet with Chris; a song Chris wrote for Tayler when she was 3 years old called "Daddy Dance with Me; she pulled on his shirt with her little hands trying to get her daddy’s attention saying “daddy dance with me” A song was born." When in Nashville producing their 1st. CD, the Keith family prayed for their ministry to have a purpose, a “Cause,” thinking that it might be for the homeless. "We all could be a pay check, or several pay checks away from being homeless if things turned very wrong, illness etc;" but didn't know what it would be until Jesse David was born on July 17, 1997. Pronounced healthy and perfect, Jesse was released from the hospital 36 hours after he emerged into the world. Five hours later, his parents rushed him to the nearest hospital, where he was diagnosed with sepsis (infected blood) and spinal meningitis (brain infection), both caused by Group B strep.

“We now know that Jesse had symptoms of GBS right from the beginning,” said Chris.

It’s easy for new parents and untrained medical professionals to rationalize the symptoms for early-onset GBS as normal infant behavior. Jesse’s first symptom was an unusually high-pitched cry. His hands and feet were cold and his skin tone was blotchy—almost purple-red. And then there was the grunting, followed by the baby going stiff and then relaxing. It turned out that this was symptomatic of baby seizures. Jesse also cried inconsolably and refused to nurse, though he finally slept.
WhenShelene checked on him around 10 p.m., he had turned white, was “breathing funny” and had a fever of 102.5. Had they given him Tylenol, their doctor later said, it would have killed him because his intestines were shutting down. The Keith's rushed him to the nearest emergency room.

“They rushed Jesse to the NICU neonatal intensive care unit, Jesse was lying there hooked up to a breathing machine with tubes coming out of him everywhere,” recalled Shelene. “He was getting everything from a spinal tap to a blood transfusion. Chris grabbed my hands and we got down on our knees. I was feeling sorry for myself. Chris prayed out loud for Jesse to be healed, and for God to show us the miracles from this tragedy; no matter what the outcome. So immediately I started looking for the miracles."

It was three days before they knew Jesse was going to live.

After almost three grueling weeks in the NICU, Jesse went home again. Shelene remembers waking up countless times with her body straddled across Jesse’s crib, having fallen asleep while monitoring his breathing.

One month later, Jesse began projectile vomiting. A cat scan revealed hydrocephalus—excess fluid in the brain—a side effect of meningitis. He was rushed to surgery, where a 3-inch shunt was placed in his brain to drain the fluids through a permanent tube burrowed down his neck to his stomach, where the tube uncoils as he grows. Seven months later, the Keith's had to hand their baby back to the neurosurgeon for a second brain surgery because the shunt malfunctioned and had to be replaced with a larger one.Again at 3 ½ years old and finally at 12 years old.

“The 12 year old surgery was very hard because Jesse was fully aware of what was happening to him.” “We have always told him that because he was born; just that event changed thousands and hundreds of thousands of lives. Generations of babies are now healthy because of Jesse.”

"When Jesse was 14 yrs. old, he went to cottage hospital PICU (pediatric Intensive care unit) again for hydrocephalous. We were preparing for surgery because Jesse’s cat scan and ventricles were full of fluid again, identical to his 2009 cat scan where he had his 4th brain surgery."

Then a miracle happened; in 2009 Dr. AloisZauner put in a magnetic programmable shunt. So instead of surgery the Dr. came into the PICU with a hand held computer and a special magnet that goes with Jesse’ shunt and placed in on the outside of Jesse’ head where the shunt was inside his brain and proceeded to adjust the flow from the outside, of course they quadrupled checked the flow, from 2.0 to 1.0. the lower the score the more the flow. Then said “O.k. I think that will do it, you can go home tomorrow and we will take a follow up cat scan in 2 weeks to make sure your brain is draining properly.”

The whole family was surprised; instead of a 5th brain surgery they could go home? Shelenesays “God and technology are a great team! We don’t know what to do with ourselves, all of those 4 brain surgeries experiences flood back into our minds with memories as we are preparing for this 5th one; and then all of the sudden instead of a 5th brain surgery we get to go home…Praise God!”

Dark blond hair and all smiles, Jesse today is an energetic and healthy 15 year old, He plays the guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and now starting the piano. He has written his first song called “Save me one dance” he is recording it this fall in Nashville with his dad and family. "He takes after his Dad, everyone calls him a little Chris; well now BIG Chris because he is 6’ tall. We are very grateful." Shelene says.

Jesse barely survived his first years and that has taken many tolls—some financial; except for the Jesse cause fundraiser concerts and the national crusade,they weren’t able to work much of that time, this took a financial toll, and some emotional. The night we brought Jesse to the hospital we were sitting in a little room attached to the NICU watching our son struggling for his life in the next room. The doctor came in and said that Jesse had something called Group B Strep (GBS) and that this could of all been prevented with a simple $25 GBS test at 35 weeks of pregnancy. The cure was only $10 of penicillin.

“We were shocked and furious. We new right then and there that this was our "Cause,” which we prayed for in Nashville 3 months earlier. Chris said, “we weren't going to stop until everyone knew about Group B strep, and ever baby was saved.”
Shelene added, “My OB never tested me or even mentioned that Group B strep existed. Our prayers have been answered with Jesse’s health and with The Jesse Cause, and now we wanted to make sure other parents don’t go through what we did.”

After Jesse’s birth, when the Keith family's music ministry performed throughout Ventura County, California, and through the U.S. Shelene said "We would do huge concerts with thousands of people and Chris' "To the Cross band." We would stop the music in the middle of the concert and tell Jesse’s story, we passed out GBS pamphlets to everyone at the concerts; and asked them if they would pass out the pamphlets to the doctors and hospitals in their cities. We had boxes by the exits; they would take them to their doctors and hospitals in their cities. We had little armies helping us in every city we would play in. We urged everyone to tell the pregnant women they knew about the GBS test.

Christian radio stations would play Chris 3 CD's on the radio for over 6 years. Because of this Ventura county and other cities were a huge support of the Jesse Cause and helped launch them nationally. They would interview Chris and Shelene on radio, newspapers, and TV across the nation. Before too long, wherever the Keith's performed, people in the audience began to come up to them with their own GBS horror stories or with thanks because The Jesse Cause had led them to be tested and treated, and saved their little one.

Shelene called the CDC Centers for Disease Control to ask for help, she told the lady at the other end of the phone “That she wanted to get every pregnant woman in the United States tested for GBS!” The lady laughed at her and said “ It will take you at least 10 years and millions and millions of dollars because there is no data on GBS.” Shelene hung up the phone, and then decided to call the CDC back. She was determined to find someone who would listen to her story and goals. This time the lady on the phone was Anne Schukat (Now the Rear Admiral of the CDC). She listened and said she would be willing to work with Shelene and The Jesse cause Foundation. Greg Totten, Ventura County chief assistant district attorney, came forward as a volunteer to help the Keith's draft a legislative proposal to mandate screening for GBS as part of regular prenatal care. Chris’ concerts funded the Jesse Cause by selling his CD’s. The city of Ventura and Bible Fellowship church came along side of this amazing family and The Jesse Cause and helped them to realize its goal to distribute million's of pamphlets across the country to hospitals and maternity-related facilities.

They supported woman and parents around the world through the GBS website. When it happened to us, SheleneSays "There was no one to turn to. It took 3 months for anyone to get back to me; by that time we started the foundation already." We wanted women to get the help and support immediately, to let them know that they were not alone. I would sit at the computer and cry with these women daily because their babies had died from GBS; I would try to give them some hope and pray with them. Many woman started working with us after their babies had died; or so sick from GBS that some of their limbs had fallen off, or had cerebral palsy. Like Marty PerhachShelene's VP and right hand woman, and John McDonald Shelene's secretary. Both had lost their babies stillborn to GBS. In both cases they stripped their membranes and their babies were dead a short time later.

The Jesse Cause is now supporting Marty’s crusade to prevent stripping of membranes preformed to GBS positive women. If you would like to carry on The Jesse Causes crusade, please send all donations to their sister foundation This way they could feel empowered. Their baby sickness or death was not in vain. They were helping to change the world so this would never happen again." Says Shelene; and they did change the world!

Shelene and Chris tried to influence doctors to understand the importance of universal screening. They would go to many conventions across the country with GBS parents and have booth's to convince the doctors to test for GBS. Chris recalls "talking to a doctor about Jesse and the other babies who have died of GBS and the doctor had the nerve to say it was only 1% of the babies who got it. It wasn't worth testing. Shelene started crying and I told the doctor that Jesse was 100% of my baby. It mattered; and it was important”!

Early on, Shelene was invited to join a GBS panel at a family care physician’s conference. “I was facing about 70 doctors and telling them what happened with Jesse and how simple it was to change and they all looked through me. I clearly did not make an impact.”

For The Jesse Cause, that was a turning point. “From then on I knew we had to have a different strategy,” she said. “We had to make testing for GBS trendy with mothers nationwide and then the doctors would follow.” Our goal was to capture the medias hearts nationally for GBS. This is what happened.To accomplish that, The Jesse Cause recruited celebrities to make public service announcements that would air nationally. They continued to play Chris’ music on the radio, at concerts, doing interviews and telling the much-needed story not only around the country, but around the world. Many national newspapers and magazines picked up the Keith’s story and soon CNN and many other TV networks were doing the same. Because of all of the national attention; Anne Schukat at the CDC was able to get a year and a half study funded in 8 hospitals around the country to study the positive effects of GBS testing.

The Jesse Cause; soon the national media took notice. Finally the national television show 48 Hours did a 9-minute segment on Chris, his family and GBS, which aired twice, and helped to break the story nationally. After many concerts, many stories, and the heartfelt work of many volunteers who donated their time, lives and talents to this amazing cause, the Keith’s dream for the nation came true: They asked for a GBS testing re-evaluation meeting with the CDC and On August 16, 2002, because of the year and half study the CDC had preformed the Centers for Disease Control announced that every pregnant woman in the United States would now be tested for Group B Strep.

Now every pregnant woman in the United States is getting group B Strep testing at 35 weeks of pregnancy and if they test positive they get 2 doses of the simple antibiotic penicillin at labor.

Many parents send their e-mail's on how their baby have been saved from the devastation of GBS; they thank them for their efforts on changing the worlds view on testing for GBS. They thank them because their babies are being born healthy after getting the now mandatory GBS test, testing positive for GBS and receiving the $10 of penicillin, which saved their baby. The Keith's were not given the option of the simple testing nor treatment of GBS. and many babies died of the bacteria, but they did not die in vain.

The Keith's thank the Lord for this miraculous journey that started "from a little prayer in the Name of Jesus for a cause."

The Jesse Cause also established on July 1, 2000 “National Group B Strep Awareness Day.” This is the 12th annual July National Group Awareness Month.
“We know we’ve made a difference across the country even across the world,” said Chris. Their goal was to make Group B strep so public that no one in their right mind wouldn't’ test for it.” Now that is a reality.

With God's help-One family can make a huge difference. You can too!

After GBS testing became mandatory in the United States , Canada and the European countries began to follow the GBS testing protocol.

If you would like to contact Chris, Shelene, Tayler or Jesse to say “Thank you” or if you have any questions for them, you can email them at

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