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Ellijay, GA
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March of Dimes kickoff encourages local residents to ‘be a lifesaver’

Twins Zoey and Zayden Southern were born premature in 2009 and spent four months in a neonatal intensive care unit. Their story was highlighted at a recent regional March of Dimes kickoff event as an example of the importance of reaching out to families dealing with preterm birth. (Contributed photo)
by Whitney Crouch

Every family deserves a healthy baby, declared Laura Thomas at a recent regional kickoff event for the annual March of Dimes campaign.

Since successfully tackling its original mission of eradicating polio from the United States, the nationwide nonprofit has shifted its focus to preventing premature births, improving the health of babies and supporting families who are struggling to deal with issues surrounding infant health.

Each year, the March of Dimes’ largest fundraising effort is hosting March for Babies walk and race events across the country to raise money for research and programs designed to prevent or address issues dealing with premature birth and birth defects.

Thomas encouraged attendees to “be a lifesaver,” stating participating in March for Babies events is an “opportunity to get involved in making a tangible difference.”

“It’s so easy to make a difference in babies’ lives and to bring hope to families,” she continued as she challenged her audience to “invest in babies, their families and their future.”

The statistics of premature birth

During the average week in Georgia, 353 babies are born premature. On an annual basis, that comes to more than 18,000 premie babies a year.

Since it often results in health concerns, preterm birth comes with a high price tag.

The March of Dimes reports the average medical cost for a healthy baby is $4,389 while the figure rises to $54,194 for premature infants.

“Premature birth is a serious and costly problem,” observed Thomas before adding it “takes a physical toll on families, an emotional toll on families and a financial toll on the nation at large.”

Families speak up about the impact of March of Dimes

April Southern has experienced firsthand the pain families go through as a result of premature birth and shared her story as part of the ambassador family spotlight during the March of Dimes kickoff event Feb. 11.  

She had been living in Germany and received the go-ahead from her doctor to fly home. At the time, there were no indications that she was at high risk for going into preterm labor.

Two days after returning to the United States, however, that’s just what happened. Her twins, Zoey and Zayden, were born March 21, 2009, and spent the next four months in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“Our NICU journey was one you can’t prepare for. Every single day you walk in and hope your baby is OK,” Southern recalled.

Her son, Zayden, “overcame the most” during those early months, and Southern could not hold him until he was eight weeks old. Looking back, she described him as “a fighter.”

Describing how her children are now healthy, she added, “Not all babies are as fortunate as mine ... anything we can do to help premature babies have a healthier life like mine have, I’m all for.”

It was during the months while her twins were in the NICU that Southern learned about the March of Dimes, which in addition to funding research grants and community outreach programs provides support for families whose children are receiving care in NICUs. Having seen at a personal level how it impacts families, Southern began promoting the organization. Indeed, she recalled how one day she participated in a March for Babies walk and upon finishing returned to the hospital to be with her children who were not yet strong enough to come home.  

During the course of the recent kickoff, several other people also spoke up about their personal experiences that have led them to support March of Dimes.

Jessica Thomas attended the event with her infant son Jacob, who was born 14 weeks early. Faced with health complications, he spent 96 days in the NICU.

“Those were the worst 96 days of my life,” Thomas told attendees, “but on that 97th day when we got to come home, it was the best day.”

Tom Wilkerson also spoke briefly about the 128 days his grandson Duncan Lawrence spent in a NICU and the 11 surgeries he endured before his first birthday.

Speaking of the March of Dimes, Wilkerson stated, “The research that organization does moves children forward every day. We march because March of Dimes gave to us and we need to give back. Every penny counts at the end of the day.”
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