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Over 6,000 join in March for Babies

By Cara Mannion, Gainesville Sun

755 days ago   Article ID# 1517788
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March of Dimes

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA (Gainesville Sun) - As they prepared for the 8.6-mile walk, Doug and Tricia Bagby had more to celebrate than supporting healthy babies. On Friday, they were told their 7-week-old daughter, Meredith, no longer has to wear a breathing monitor.

Meredith, who was born prematurely at 3.14 pounds, was diagnosed with apnea. This condition, which is common in preemies, causes infants to stop breathing for 15 to 20 seconds while sleeping.

"It's emotional seeing all of these people come out and support friends or families who have also been affected by a premature birth," Tricia Bagby said. "I am just grateful to all the nurses and doctors who were always there for Meredith."

The Bagby family joined more than 6,000 people at the 42nd annual March for Babies on Saturday to promote the prevention of birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

The event, hosted by March of Dimes, raised about $747,000 in Alachua County.

Originally founded by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to fight polio, March of Dimes has now turned its focus to promoting safe pregnancy and baby health.

About one in eight babies were born prematurely in the U.S. in 2008, according to March of Dimes. During that year in Alachua County, 399 preemies were born.

The cost of a preterm birth is almost 10 times that of a full-term birth. Participants of the March for Babies help fight these high prices.

The energy was high as families, schools and companies all gathered at Westwood Middle School's field at 8 a.m. Saturday to begin their journey.

Betsy Trent, executive director of the March of Dimes North Central Florida Division, said spirit stations throughout the route encourage walkers with free food.

"It's not a walk. It's an 8.6-mile street party," she said.

As they continue down the route, participants walk onto Ambassador Avenue, where about 40 families who have been directly affected by premature births tell their stories and thank walkers for their support.

Just after Ambassador Avenue is Memory Mile, where the children who have been lost due to premature birth or birth defects are remembered through pictures and signs.

Trent said Alachua County's walk is No. 1 in the country for per-person donations and ranks 18th in the nation for total dollars raised. Her team has prepared for this event all year long.

"It's always exciting when I wake up at 3:30 in the morning and realize today is March for Babies day," she said. "It's humbling to see all the participants and realize I had a hand in it."

New attractions were added this year, including a Shands helicopter landing and a display of antique incubators, she said.

The proceeds of this event combine with Gators March for Babies, another walk in November for college students. It is the No. 1 March of Dimes collegiate walk in the nation.

"We have wonderful support of our youth because we realize that's the next generation of volunteers and parents," Trent said. "It's up to them to find the answers for pre-term birth."

Sixteen-year-old Megan Werbel raised about $5,000. She's part of the Chain Reaction Youth Leadership Council, a group of students from five high schools whose mission is to serve the community through projects that promote overall health and well-being. Its 29 members raised $58,158 this year.

"Even though we had to wake up at 4 a.m. this morning, it was totally worth it to see what a difference we made," Werbel said.

Chain Reaction hosts benefits for premature babies throughout the year. The students also tour Shands' Neonatal Intensive Care Unit each year to visit the babies they are working for.

Melanie Harris, a teacher at P.K. Yonge School, said she has participated in March for Babies all her life, whether as a kid walking or an adult volunteer. This year, she is a representative for Chain Reaction.

She said this event unites people from all walks of life, from the kids in a stroller with their parents to the grandparents.

"It really just is a labor of love," Harris said.

Copyright 2014 Gainesville Sun   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 755 days ago   Article ID# 1517788

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