By Tim Leeds
Some local health care providers are trying to emphasize the positive in promoting a fund-raiser to improve babies' health and prevent birth defects and infant mortality.
The fund-raiser is the March of Dimes WalkAmerica event, slated for May 31 in Havre. Staff members at Northern Montana Health Care volunteered to create a poster of local children who were born prematurely to advertise the walk.
Wanda Allison, manager of obstetrics at Northern Montana Hospital, said one poster is already made, and another is on the way.
Allison said she and the other volunteers working on the poster wanted people "to see what can happen when (babies) have high quality care and more research. We wanted to show some of our best-case scenarios."
Janice Roth of Chinook said she didn't know how important the March of Dimes work is until her daughter was born prematurely three years ago. Jamie is now doing very well with no problem, but it was the work of the March of Dimes and the care given by the neonatal intensive care unit at Benefis East in Great Falls that made that possible, Roth said.
"I guess we just didn't really fully understand how much they donate," she said.
Kathy Donaldson echoed that sentiment, although she said she always appreciated the work of the March of Dimes. She just didn't expect to need it until her twin daughters, Katie and Alexandra, had to be induced prematurely in 1999.
"I was definitely in a position I thought I would never be in. But nobody ever does," she said.
The March of Dimes was commissioned by polio victim President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938, as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Comedian Eddie Cantor coined the phrase "March of Dimes," which the organization officially changed its name to in 1979.
Dr. Jonas Salk, using money from the March of Dimes, produced the first vaccine for polio in 1948, and it was tested nation-wide in 1952.
"Every single one of us - every single person in the United States who's immunized (for polio) - has benefited from the March of Dimes," Allison said.
The March of Dimes will focus its attention on premature babies for the next five years, having focused on gene therapy and the benefits of taking folic acid during pregnancy for the last five.
Allison said that while the organization continually funds research in all areas of its mission of preventing birth defects and infant mortality, it focuses on particular aspects five years at a time.
The March of Dimes' mission makes it even more natural for her and the staff of the hospital to help promote the walk, said Allison, who is also leader of the hospital's walking team.
"It's part of exactly what we do here, just try to save babies," Allison said.
And premature birth is a serious problem. It's the leading cause of newborn deaths, she said, and doctors don't know the cause of about half of premature deliveries. About 16 percent of deliveries are premature.
In Montana, the Big Sky Chapter of the March of Dimes reports that of 211 babies born in an average week, 22 are premature, with 13 born at below 5.5 pounds and two below 3.3 pounds.
WalkAmerica, started in 1970, is the March of Dimes' largest fund-raiser. Volunteers collect pledges for donations independently or as teams, then walk a route in their community.
Angela Slade, marketing director of the Havre Holiday Village Shopping Center, said she hopes to see more than 100 walkers this year. Holiday Village, which is the local contact for the Havre walk, is the start of the route. About 75 walked last year, Slade said.
The walkers will travel across the parking lot, down U.S. Highway 2 and First Street to Fourth Avenue, then return to the shopping center.
Businesses will have rest stops, with water, juice, fruit, and other refreshments along the route.
Donaldson's story about the care given to her premature babies, much of which comes from March of Dimes-funded research, has found its way onto the Internet.
Her story, detailing how the babies had to taken prematurely by Caesarean section because of complications with the pregnancy, is now on the Pampers Web site.
Donaldson said a doctor at the neonatal care unit at Benefis contacted her about telling her story, then a lady called her from New York for an interview.
The care the doctors and nurses at Benefis gave Katie and Alexandra was amazing, she said.
"Can you imagine having a baby that fits in the palm of your hand and trying to find a vein?" Allison asked.
That care, and the March of Dimes research, made the difference. There is a 10 percent mortality in premature babies, and others suffer severe consequences, but not the Donaldson twins.
"They're very healthy," Kathy Donaldson said.
For more information about the WalkAmerica event in Havre, call 265-2533.
On the Net: March of Dimes: www.marchofdimes.org
Editor's note: This week's Hi-Line Living focuses on volunteers in honors of National Volunteer Week, April 27 to May 3.