Friday, November 9, 2012

#GivingTuesday - Why March of Dimes Means So Much to Me

World Homeless Day
I told you I was going to start a new series of posts as part of #GivingTuesday and while it is Friday, I want to start with a cause that is very important to me which is the March of Dimes.
March of Dimes was started nearly 75 years ago by President Franklin Roosevelt to help in the fight against polio.  When that mission was accomplished, the foundation turned to dealing with infant mortality and birth defects.  Research, fundraising, donating, advocacy and volunteering are all components of the March of Dimes today.  November is being recognized as Prematurity Awareness Month  and March of Dimes has set the goal of getting 25,000 signatures on a petition to turn the White House purple on January 3rd to celebrate its 75th anniversary and give hope to families of premature babies.  To help turn the White House purple and raise awareness, please visit before November 18.  More importantly, to donate to the March of Dimes and provide needed research, education, equipment and help for premature babies, visit the March of Dimes.

My personal journey with the March of Dimes began before my own children were born.  My family has that sort of overlap in generations that happens when there are multiple generations of an oldest who is 18 years older than the youngest sibling.  So I was 22 years old when my aunt had her second child at age 42.  It was a high-risk pregnancy from the beginning.  In fact, she was never supposed to be able to conceive in the first place following a traumatic bus accident at age 8, let alone conceive 3 times.  The first ended in an early miscarriage.  The second was within months of the first and was a totally healthy pregnancy from beginning to end.  Although her first son was born 5 weeks early, he was perfectly healthy.  The third pregnancy ended with severe pre-eclampsia at week 26 and they had to take the baby when she began to have a series of mini-strokes.

This is our first miracle baby - tiny little "A" at 26 weeks old.  Eyes and lungs not fully developed.  Measuring 12 inches long exactly.  Weighing in at just 1 pound 7 ounces.  Literally, the size of a medium banana.  That is his daddy's hand.  His skin was so fragile and translucent.  You could see the veins and organs and he cringed at touch even as he searched for the sounds of familiar voices and eventually looked for familiar faces.  He was given a 10% chance of survival at birth.

The entire extended family took turns during his six months in the NICU - taking care of his big brother so his mom and dad could be with him as much as possible, and once he was stable enough to be held, taking shifts in the NICU holding him.  You see, the most amazing things happened physically with his tiny little body when he was held - his heart rate dropped, his oxygen levels improved, his frantic flailing and pulling at his wires stopped.  He had several surgeries on his eyes and hernias, was revived countless times (you see he got tired of being poked and prodded and would simply hold his breath until he turned blue when anyone in a lab coat came near and he became stressed), and finally reached 5 tiny pounds and was able to come home at 6 months old on oxygen with a heart monitor and an arsenal of steroid inhalers to help his little lungs.  Now, he is a perfectly healthy middle-schooler who is smart as a whip and has that go-getter attitude that helped him meet every challenge along the way - in large part due to the resources March of Dimes made available to our family and the hospital to help meet his needs.
It was in honor of "A" that we started participating in the March of Dimes March for Babies.  Each spring, we would fund raise and then walk with hundreds of other families.  We participated on a personal level for several years.  Then my own daughter came 5 weeks early as the result of a serious fever and virus I had that put my in the hospital with pneumonia-like symptoms the week prior to her birth.  Thankfully, she was born with no long-term issues and suffered only from jaundice and the lack of nursing skills so we had to drip feed her for the first couple of weeks until she developed the compulsion to suck.  Again, thankfully another baby who turned out to be a completely healthy child due to the excellent care she was given before, during and after birth that would not have been available with the March of Dimes.
So we continued to walk and fund raise for March of Dimes - now in her honor as well.  (That's her in the above picture taking a picture of a sign at our walk that used "A"s story and picture.)  And we began to meet other people who had similar stories or had tiny extreme-preemies like "A" and needed some hope and guidance.  I poured a lot of my energy and desire for another baby into the March of Dimes for several years, knowing that we were not ready for #2 just yet.  I made lots of baked goods like pies and Amish Friendship Bread that I would take to work and sell to raise money.  I solicited donations from family, friends, co-workers.  I collected soda pop cans to recycle, had people sign my walk shirt for $1 donations, etc.  I also approached the local VFW Dad's Post and requested sponsorship.  I was able to raise $300-$1000 a year through all these efforts.
Finally, friends asked me to organize a team.  By that time, we had many friends and family who had been touched by prematurity or other difficulties at birth so it was an easy commitment to make for me.  We went with the name Footprints for Hope.  In part because when my tiny daughter was born, my husband was enthralled with the tiny footprints when the nurses were taking them and they stamped her little feet right on his arm.  He even considered getting them tattooed on for a while but after about 2 weeks of protecting them, he finally washed them off.  And the hope part is in honor of the family we had met who just needed a glimmer of hope.

Then along came my son and again, we faced difficulties at delivery.  He was so broad-shouldered that he got stuck on my pelvic bone.  I struggled a long time and finally they gave the ultimatum that they were going for a C-section and this momma gritted her teeth and made it happen, lol.  But when he came out and they laid him on my chest I knew something wasn't right.  He was breathing but he was not breathing in a deep and normal way - he was doing a shallow pant that I just knew wasn't right.  I insisted they take him and that he wasn't breathing right and when they checked him over, they called for the NICU nurses to come take him as they were sure he was only 35 weeks even though we were 100% that he was a full 38 weeks.  (Below he is looking for me and listening to my voice while the nurses are hooking him up - they put on oxygen mask on right after this picture was taken.)
Below he is in the incubator in the NICU with a sweet little sign big sister made about how happy she is that he is here and how much she loves him.  He looks huge in here at 6 pounds 7 ounces compared to all the little 2- and 3-pounders.
He spent two days in the NICU until he was feeding and breathing well on his own.  He spent an additional night under the lights for jaundice before he came home for good.  Another baby who needed the help made available through the work of March of Dimes.  I take my kids on the walk with us every year and in 2011, my daughter started fundraising on her own and raised $200 by herself.  Our team total - $3000!  We sat it out in 2012 due to other organizations we chose to support and conflicting family commitments but I will be resuming my walk team in 2013 and I hope you will consider March of Dimes when thinking of charitable organizations to become involved with.

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