Nita Johnson

Every minute, a baby is born too soon in our country.

Approximately 14 million women of childbearing age are uninsured in our country.

With medical costs soaring and ongoing health problems with premature babies, the March of Dimes is continuing to conduct fundraisers to help generate funds for research and education to prevent babies from being born too early.

This Thursday, March 1, the annual March of Dimes March for Babies will host its 2012 campaign kickoff at the Laurel County Public Library at noon. Businesses and organizations who want to be involved with raising money for this year’s event are urged to send a representative to this meeting and learn more about the activities planned.

Regular readers of my column know that the March of Dimes is a charity near and dear to my heart. When the first glimpse of your newborn baby comes a day after childbirth and requires going to the neonatal intensive care unit in order to spend time with that precious new life, the only word remotely  expressive is “heartbreaking.”

Rather than holding your newborn child like most other parents, you are allowed only to grasp the tiny fingers and legs of your newborn child through holes in the incubator where the child is kept warm and monitored through various machines. While most new parents have the joy of holding their baby and feeding it, those with babies in the NICU can only watch while nourishment is supplied through a feeding tube and visits are limited throughout the day.

It is not uncommon for premature babies to experience breathing problems since the lungs are one of the last organs to fully develop. Many of the basic survival instincts are also not developed, such as knowing how to suck a bottle.

My first experience with premature babies came when my son arrived in the world seven weeks early. Only 4 pounds and 10 ounces, he was the tiniest baby I’d ever seen and I was terrified, even after he came home, that I would unknowingly hurt him. The experience with a preemie was a world of difference from my daughter, who was born full-term, healthy and vibrant.

Just over 16 months ago, I had deja vu when my granddaughter Autumn entered the world nine weeks early and weighed only 3 pounds 3 ounces. Delivered at Saint Joseph-London, Autumn had to be flown by a special neonatal unit to UK in Lexington. Little more could be more dramatic and devastating as watching that helicopter lift off from the landing pad in London with your new baby inside, fighting for life.

Though Autumn is progressing well, she has experienced problems. She seems prone to running fevers and has been diagnosed with R.S.V., a breathing problem that most premature babies experience. She may “grow out” of it, but the breathing problems may also linger throughout her lifetime. After spending the first full month of her life in the neonatal unit where she stopped breathing several times, Autumn had to be re-admitted within two weeks after discharge when she once again stopped breathing and was taken by ambulance to UK.

Even now, every little high temperature, every little cough, every little signal that things are not right on target brings concern for this child who struggled so hard to survive.

And she is no different than any other premature child, whose entrances into the world seemed stacked against them. They are survivors, first of all, by the grace of God himself. But it is also through the diligent efforts of the March of Dimes and similar organizations that milestones in research and education have been achieved. With more than $21 million raised in recent years, approximately 114 new promising research grants have been discovered to understand and hopefully prevent premature births. These funds have allowed scientists to now identify when the hormone that regulates labor contractions malfunctions. It has helped identify height genes for inherited growth disorders and in the past, has fought for legislation and action requiring certain immunizations for newborn babies that are now required.

During 2010, the March of Dimes raised $102.7 million for research, services for expectant families, education and research.

Won’t you please join us on Thursday in the effort to prevent premature births? It is vital to the health of all babies and is a legacy you can leave behind, knowing you have helped in ensuring a healthier start for our future generations.

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