MotherToBaby CA Counselors
Pregnancy Health Information Counselors at MotherToBaby CA, formerly known as the CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line, answer questions from the public and healthcare professionals about potential effects that environmental agents such as medications, diseases, alcohol or tobacco could have on pregnancy outcome.
Counselors receive specialized training under the supervision of our Medical Director, Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones. They are trained and receive ongoing instruction in the principles of teratology, embryology, pharmacology and physiology. Counselors are trained to evaluate and interpret published medical research studies. Additionally, they develop the ability to communicate complex information in a manner that is understandable and helpful to the pregnant or breastfeeding woman or her healthcare provider. Counselors use a variety of resources to gather information in response to questions about exposures, including library resources, on-line databases, medical consultants or other experts whenever necessary. Counseling is provided in English and Spanish.
Program Director, MotherToBaby CA
Christina D. Chambers, PhD, MPH
Dr. Chambers is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Family and Preventative Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. She graduated from California State University, received a Masters in Public Health from San Diego State University, and a PhD in Public Health/Epidemiology from the University of California and San Diego State University.
Dr. Chambers has worked as an epidemiologist with MotherToBaby CA for the last 8 years. Her interests are in the areas of birth defects epidemiology and perinatal epidemiology, with a special focus on human teratogens. She is currently funded to conduct research on the prevention of alcohol related birth defects and to study safety in pregnancy of several new medications used for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Chambers serves as the Vice-President of the Teratology Society, and has been an active member of the Research Committee for the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists.
Medical Director, MotherToBaby CA
Kenneth Lyons Jones, MD
Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones is the Chief of the Division of Dysmorphology/Teratology at the Department of Pediatrics at UCSD and Medical Director of MotherToBaby CA. In these activities he has been involved in research, teaching, clinical work and University and public service.
His research has focused on the clinical delineation of birth defects, mechanisms of normal and abnormal morphogenesis and the recognition of new human teratogens. The work on recognition of new human teratogens is primarily focused through MotherToBaby CA, a service which he established under a different name in 1979 and which is funded by the State of California.
Dr. Jones has authored over 400 publications in scientific journals as well as several books, and is the author of Smith’s Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation. He is considered to be the father of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) as he was one of 2 doctors at the University of Washington who first identified FAS in the United States in 1973.
As Chief of UCSD Medical Center’s Division of Dysmorphology/Teratology, Dr. Jones is in clinical service throughout the year, and trains fellows in dysmorphology. Teaching goes on virtually every day as he sees patients in clinics and serves as consultant on hospital inpatient services throughout San Diego County.
Dr. Jones is past president of the Western Society for Pediatric Research and president elect of the Teratology Society as well as the co-chair of the Scientific Working Group on Diagnostic Guidelines for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, convened by the National Center of Birth Defects & Developmental Disabilities. He is also a member of 2 committees established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the Pregnancy Labeling Advisory Committee and the Subcommittee established in 2000 to evaluate the continued misuse of Accutane during pregnancy. Dr. Jones also serves on various other boards and committees.
On March 15, 2007, Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Genetics from the March of Dimes.
Kelly Kao is the Research Manager at MotherToBaby CA. She has been part of the MotherToBaby CA team since 1993. Kelly’s interest in teratology began in her senior year of college when she maintained the birth defects database for Pediatric Dysmorphology/Teratology at UCSD.
After graduating from UCSD with a Bachelors degree in Sociology with minors in Biology and Spanish, she took a career position at Pediatric Dysmorphology/Teratolgy. Her interest in Teratology grew as she continued to maintain the birth defects registry and worked closely with the CTIS director and counselors for the next 6 years.
In her current position, as a Research Manager, she supervises two areas of MotherToBaby CA: The Follow-Up Office (enrollment of subjects, making follow-up calls, review of medical records, collection of physical exam information, data entry, report generation, and neurodevelopmental testing of children 12 months to 16 years of age); and the IT sector, which includes maintenance and quality assurance of the database.
Kelly demonstrates her dedication to counseling and educating the community about teratogens through her outreach activities, lectures and research projects. Kelly is married to Wayne and has three wonderful children – Brandon, Emily and Dillon. In her spare time, you’ll find her with her family at the Zoo, Legoland, museums at Balboa Park and other adventures San Diego provides, as well as spending quiet time at home.
Elizabeth Salas is the Lead Teratology Information and Research Specialist at MotherToBaby CA. She graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in Human Biology, and received her Master’s in Public Health with a Concentration in Epidemiology from the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University. Before joining MotherToBaby California in 2012, she worked with MotherToBaby Pregnancy Studies as an interviewer and counselor for over 6 years. She is dedicated to counseling women and health care providers, raising public awareness, training new counselors, and furthering the work of MotherToBaby. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish, works on studies incorporating contraception education with teratogen counseling, and counsels in person at a county sponsored mental health clinic. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys social dance, volunteering with her church youth group, serving meals to the homeless, and translating at free clinics for the uninsured. Her most memorable awards include recognition from the Haas Center for Public Service for her work on social issues affecting the elderly, receiving the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Award, and induction into the Laurel Elementary School Hall of Fame in 2014.
Sonia Alvarado has been a bilingual (Spanish/English) Teratogen Information Specialist with MotherToBaby CA for 11 years. Along with answering women’s and health professionals’ questions regarding exposures during pregnancy/lactation via MotherToBaby CA’s toll-free hotline and email service, she provides educational talks regarding pregnancy health in community clinics and high schools. In addition, Sonia contributes to the service’s website, develops training materials for new staff, and is the supervising Teratogen Information Specialist trainer. Sonia attended San Diego State University and has worked in Tuberculosis Control for San Diego County’s Public Health Department. Sonia’s work has also been published through several tuberculosis studies. In her spare time, she loves to volunteer with the March of Dimes as an expert speaker on themes related to pregnancy.
Robert Felix is a Senior Teratogen Information Specialist with MotherToBaby CA. He started as a volunteer over 20 years ago and has assumed progressively counseling, outreach and program responsibilities since 1986. Currently, as MotherToBaby CA’s Community Outreach Coordinator and Data Resource Manager he is responsible for publicizing and increasing awareness about the value of MotherToBaby CA and the services it offers. He cultivates new partnerships by identifying healthcare providers and communities throughout California so that MotherToBaby CA’s services can be targeted to these groups. Robert is actively involved with a variety of programs, locally and statewide. These include the Perinatal Care Network (PCN), Black Infant Health (BIH), California’s Comprehensive Perinatal Service Program (CPSP), California Smokers Helpline, California’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC), March of Dimes, and Planned Parenthood. Robert’s continued participation has lead to the inclusion of MotherToBaby CA as a resource in the Health and Human Services website for California’s Department of Public Health.
Robert is a member of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) since 1995. He currently serves on the OTIS Board of Directors as Member-at-Large, Publicity and Annual Report. He has previously served on the Board of Directors as Secretary and Member-at-large, and been chairperson for Occupational and Website Committees. He also assists with OTIS Special Projects at National Conferences. Robert’s ongoing experience with MotherToBaby CA and OTIS outreach enables him to contribute to the program’s success.
Kerri Bertrand is a Research Coordinator for MotherToBaby CA and the UCSD Breast Milk Biorepository Study. She graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2010 and then received a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from San Diego State University in 2013.
As the Research Coordinator for MotherToBaby CA, Kerri is responsible for managing participant recruitment, follow-up, and retention, collection of pediatric exam data, medical record review, data entry, and case management. In addition, Kerri coordinates the UCSD Breast Milk Biorepository study where she is responsible for the recruitment and enrollment of breastfeeding mothers, collection of biospecimens, preparation of breast milk samples for freezing, data entry, review of medical records, and report generation. She looks forward to working closely with the community to contribute to the research already being done in the maternal and child health field!
Kerri was born and raised in East Hampton, New York and moved to San Diego in 2011 with her husband, Lee, and their dog, Kiedis! In her spare time, Kerri likes to be outdoors! She enjoys going to the beach, hiking, camping, and exploring new areas!
Colleen Kernahan is a Teratology Information Specialist at Mother To Baby CA. She graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a B.A. in Anthropology. For more than three decades she worked in UCSD’s Division of Medical Genetics, initially in the laboratory and then in their high-risk clinic. As a counselor, she interpreted prenatal patients’ and their partners’ family and medical histories, reviewed options for genetic testing, as well as prenatal screening and testing, and communicated results, supporting families through the process, providing education and resources as needed/desired. This included working closely with physicians, nurses, genetic counselors and extended families, as well as the patient. Research, including recruiting participants for clinical trials, was included in this position. In 2011, she joined the MTB-CA family, where she answers women’s and health professionals’ questions regarding exposures during pregnancy and lactation.
For years, Colleen played soccer and volunteered as an usher at venues around San Diego for musical and theatrical events. She continues to enjoy supporting the arts, taking walks, celebrating anything and everything with friends and family, and traveling whenever possible.
Jack Degnan is the Marketing Manager for MotherToBaby CA, MotherToBaby Pregnancy Studies, and all programs of the UCSD Maternal Infant Center. He has a Master’s Degree in Public Health from San Diego State University with an emphasis in Health Promotion and a BA in English. Jack is responsible for overseeing all day to day marketing activities with the goals of promoting the MotherToBaby California counseling services, recruiting participants for all pregnancy related research studies, and implementing and overseeing all marketing activities for the various programs within the Maternal Infant Center.
In his spare time he enjoys playing the guitar and hiking. He also has several board games published.