Editor Kathy Best explains why The Seattle Times decided to use the heartbreaking photo of baby Maria Rosario Perez, who died of a birth defect.

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Read The Seattle Times’ full report on anencephaly, the deadly birth defect, here.

Lea esta carta en español / Read this letter in Spanish ]

Dear Readers,

The photo of baby Maria Rosario Perez on this Sunday’s front page and on the pages of seattletimes.com is heartbreaking. So is the birth defect that robbed Maria of her future.

The decision to use this photo was not made lightly.

Maria’s mother, Sally Garcia, wanted her daughter’s 55 minutes on Earth to have enduring meaning. By sharing the photo and a mother’s love for her baby, she believes she can save others from sharing Maria’s fate.

Lead reporter JoNel Aleccia considers the image, while disturbing, essential to understanding the horrific nature of anencephaly. Until readers comprehend the impact of this birth defect, she said, they won’t grasp the importance of doing everything possible — through tracking, science and outreach — to prevent it.

Editors around the newsroom concur. Baby Maria’s picture, lovingly taken and carefully presented, drove home for all of us the point that Washington state’s anencephaly cluster — one of the largest in the history of the U.S. — was affecting babies and families in terrible ways.

Maria Rosario Perez, born May 25, 2012, lived only 55 minutes. She was part of a cluster of babies with the birth defect anencephaly. “Something’s going on and someone needs to tell us,” says her mother, Sally Garcia. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

A grant from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism is making it possible for us to share this story broadly, extending our reach into Spanish-speaking communities.

While anencephaly can affect anyone, Hispanic women are at higher risk for this potentially avoidable birth defect. So we have translated the story into Spanish, and versions in both languages appear on seattletimes.com.

To reach a broader audience in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties — where the cluster is centered — we are sharing our work with the Yakima Herald-Republic. Our sister paper will run our full English-language coverage on its website, and a shorter version in print. El Sol, the Spanish-language paper in Yakima, will run a translated version online and in print.

We also have a video, with Spanish subtitles, in which two families talk about the pain of having children born with anencephaly:

And we have printed 15,000 cards with public health messages — one side in English, the other in Spanish — for distribution during the holiday season in the Catholic churches in the Diocese of Yakima. The cards encourage all women of childbearing age to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to help prevent the birth defect.

We plan to distribute thousands more cards in the coming weeks in the three counties.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll help us get the word out by sharing this important story with your family and friends.