Nita Johnson

While the green of St. Patrick’s Day signifies the beginning of spring and its official arrival on Sunday, the month of March also marks the beginning of many spring activities.

On the first day of the month, the annual March of Dimes Walk for Babies campaign kicked off, offering the community opportunity to participate in fundraising activities to benefit babies.

The March of Dimes is one of my favorite national charities. Though I support many local efforts, the March of Dimes has a special spot in my heart due to my own experiences with premature births. I had my first experience with a neonatal unit when my son Rickey was born six weeks early. It was terrifying to see that tiny child lying in a seemingly huge plastic ‘bed,’ hooked to machines that closely monitored his heartbeat and breathing and an IV tube stuck in his head. Those pictures will be forever imprinted on my mind, although to see him now, no one would ever know Rickey only weighed 4 pounds at birth.

It was deja vu when Rickey’s daughter, Autumn, underwent the same experiences just five months ago, but somehow even more terrifying. Though medical technology has made huge gains in the past 27 years, the sight of a tiny baby lying inside an incubator with tubes and wires and machines hooked up to it remains a horrifying experience that no parent or grandparent should ever witness.

But premature births continue to occur and the technology we now have brings even more attention to the situation.

The March of Dimes focuses on education and prevention of premature births and utilizes its fundraising efforts to provide equipment to neonatal units and to educate prospective parents on proper prenatal care and the need for vaccinations against diseases and disorders that are common to premature babies.

When our tiny Autumn entered the world early, it was a bittersweet experience for all family members. The joy of a new addition to the family was admonished by her early entrance into our lives and potential problems with early births. We stood at the windows of Saint Joseph-London’s nursery, watching our new baby hooked up to machines while we awaited the arrival of the medical helicopter that would transport her to the UK Medical Center. I stood by my van in the hospital’s parking lot and watched that helicopter lift off, circle around and fly away with my newest granddaughter while my heart broke and the tears flowed.

The drive to Lexington was one I took alone; my daughter and son in the car ahead of me. We arrived in Lexington about the same time, but our small town driving talents were severely challenged as we tried to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Seeing Autumn that night and watching her progress over the next month as she remained in the neonatal unit at UK brought even more awareness of the programs that March of Dimes provides. I know in my heart without the research and equipment provided by this worthy organization, Autumn and Rickey’s chances -- along with millions of other children -- would have been severely challenged.

Over the past five months we’ve seen tremendous progress of our blessed Autumn. Entering the world at only 3 pounds 3 ounces, Autumn now weighs over 12 pounds and she has grown nearly six inches longer since birth. While most people look at her and comment about how tiny she still is, to those of us who witnessed her teeny little self at birth, her progress and growth has been remarkable.

She showed personality immediately after birth. We know Autumn does not like being awakened and she has no hesitation in making her feelings known if you dare to challenge her ‘beauty sleep.’ She has no reservations in letting us know when it is time to eat or when she prefers juice over formula. At five months old, we’re thrilled that she fits into 3 months clothes and we can find some little shoes to fit her long, slender feet.

Without a doubt, the March of Dimes has played a vital role in the survival of thousands of premature babies with the PKU testing that is now mandatory. This test detects irregularities in development and potential health problems in newborn babies.

The annual Walk for Babies is scheduled for Sunday, May 15 at Levi Jackson State Park and will celebrate the ongoing efforts of this organization that has helped so many children over its history. I urge every person who has had a premature child or grandchild and those who are fortunate enough not to have had this experience to join the team and support the March of Dimes campaign.

Our children’s lives could depend upon your contribution.

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