Jennifer Walker was 29 weeks into her pregnancy when her twin sons, Justin and Jonathon, were born prematurely. Justin weighed 2 lbs. 8 oz., while Jonathon weighed 2 lbs. 14 oz. The twins spent 108 days in neonatal intensive care — the first week at Union Hospital, and later at an Indianapolis hospital — before they could come home. “It was scary,” said Walker, who is a labor and delivery nurse.
The boys were on a ventilator for two months and received “surfactant replacement therapy,” a treatment to mature their lungs. After they went home, the boys received physical and occupational therapy to help them “catch up.”Today, the 3-year-old twins “are exactly where they should be. You would never know they were born so early and had so many complications,” said Walker, who with her sons and husband, Jason, served as the Ambassador family for the 2013 March of Dimes March for Babies.
March of Dimes funded research that developed the surfactant therapy. Without it, her sons “might not be here today,” she said. The Walkers, who are from Sullivan, were part of the Union Hospital team during the walk.
The March for Babies took place Saturday, beginning at Memorial Stadium. The event drew 150 teams and was expected to raise $179,000, said Nikki Simpson, March of Dimes division director. An estimated 1,400 participants could choose a two-mile “traditional” walk or a five-mile route. Many of the “walkers” were little ones in strollers, while some were of the four-legged variety.
According to March of Dimes, the most urgent infant health problem in the U.S. today is premature birth, which affects more than 500,000 babies each year — and the number is growing. In Indiana, one in nine, or more than 10,000 babies, are born prematurely each year. Babies born too soon are more likely to have disabilities or even die.
Funds raised by the March of Dimes are used for research, education and advocacy to address issues associated with premature birth. Money raised also benefits babies born healthy who need access to newborn screening and preventive health care. Since 1970, the March of Dimes has raised more than $2 billion nationwide, according to the organization.
“There is such great community support … because we have a mission relevant to so many people,” Simpson said prior to Saturday’s walk. Many people participate year after year. “There is a little nostalgia around it,” Simpson said. March for Babies also is a fun event that includes vendors, a Kid Zone, opening ceremony and Zumba instructors who try to get everyone warmed up.
Among those participating was a team that wore pink T-shirts with the words, “Rhyan’s Fight Club — Fighting Against Premature Birth.”Rhyan, who is 21 months old, wore a pink ribbon in her hair, pink tennis shoes and a pink T-shirt. Her mom, Amanda Heffernan, said she was 35 weeks into her pregnancy when she had Rhyan, and it had been a complicated pregnancy.
When her daughter was born, Rhyan was 4 lbs. 14 oz. and spent 15 days at Union Hospital’s NICU unit. Rhyan has developmental delays and continues to receive physical, occupational, developmental and speech therapy each week, her mom said. Heffernan participated in the March for Babies to support Rhyan and raise awareness. She and her daughter have benefited from March of Dimes research, she said.
Also participating was Melissa Cress of Brazil and her twin sons Corey and Caden, almost 4-years-old. They were born prematurely when she was 33 weeks pregnant, and they spent five weeks in Union Hospital’s NICU. “It was hard, but the nurses were great,” she said, and March of Dimes provided care packets.
Corey weighted 3 lbs. 8 oz at birth and Caden was 3 lbs. 15 oz. Cress had an emergency C-section and the boys had to be on ventilators for a few days. Today, the twins are healthy. Cress wanted to walk in the March for Babies “to support the cause” and to give back so others benefit from March of Dimes as her family has.