“March of Dimes fights for premature babies both in the labs and in the NICUs,” Susie Johnson, the Executive Director of Market Development for the March of Dimes Capital Area Division, shares. Whether it’s research or NICU support, March of Dimes does all it can to fulfill it’s mission of improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
Before you check out because you think the March of Dimes doesn’t relate to you, ask yourself the same questions Susie asks every time she speaks somewhere: Do you have polio? Were you born with a birth defect? Were you premature? Did your baby have a heel prick or an APGAR score? Whether a yes or a no, your answers to these connect you to this organization. President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes in 1938 to find a cure for polio. Americans contributed their dimes and more to fund the genius Dr. Jonas Salk as he devoted years to research. Dr. Salk discovered a vaccine for polio, but the March of Dimes did not end. “Once you accomplish a mission you ask, ‘Do we stop or do we continue this good work?’ So the organization progressed to fighting prematurity, and that’s what they’ve been doing ever since,” Susie says.
The key to defeating both polio and prematurity is research. The changes happen in the laboratory over time. Susie clarifies, “Our primary focus is research. On a daily basis, we have top doctors and scientists spread out over five to six research centers trying to figure out what is causing the mom to go into premature labor. They are constantly testing different scenarios to try to come up with ways to improve the rate of these premature babies.” Although research may be difficult for people to support because they cannot actively observe the changes, it is critical. “Many people disregard research because they cannot see the tangible results. Though you can’t see it, touch it, or feel it, it is the prime reason that we are able to see a baby leave the NICU or see a premature baby excelling later in life. It is the foundation of progress,” Susie points out. Progress also happens in the NICUs themselves where the March of Dimes supports the families there.
Neonatal Intensive Care Units are difficult places where tiny babies struggle to survive at each moment. The parents of these little miracles are often overwhelmed, tired, and bewildered. All of the devices and medical terminology can be daunting for parents who just want to bring their baby home. Susie adds, “We offer NICU support programs for our parents where a representative from the March of Dimes will come into the NICU and meet with the parents one on one. They try to make it an easier path by explaining to them what’s going on, what they will experience in the NICU, and what resources they have available to them. Surfactant Therapy is also a March of Dimes discovery, and it helps babies with their breathing because many premature babies have underdeveloped lungs.” The NICU Support program offers a care package that includes baby keepsake booklets, a guide for parenting in the NICU, and parenting materials for when the babies go home.
Susan Cedotal, local mother of triplets, owes her transition into being a mother of multiples to the March of Dimes. The support they gave her in the hospital eased her anxious mind. “When I was pregnant with triplets, I went into labor at 32 weeks. My triplets weighed 2.15, 3.14, and 4.4 lbs. I buy roast now that weighs more than my babies did. Right when they were born, they were whisked away from me and taken to the NICU. I was so overwhelmed,” Susan shares.
She was in shock that she had gone into labor so early and that her babies were swooped from her presence. She continues, “When I was in the NICU visiting the babies, the March of Dimes representatives came in several times. They gave me a booklet with all the NICU abbreviations, terms, and definitions that helped me so much. They also gave me preemie journals to write down and keep track of everything happening.”
Susie understands the Cedotals’ and every other preemie parent’s struggle, “It’s a difficult and scary process when you are dealing with something that you’re not familiar with. You are looking at your little one with all these tubes and machines, and you’re thinking the worst. So when you have somebody take you by the hand and assure you that the baby is taken care of until you can take that baby home, it means everything.”
Not only was Susan deeply impacted by the physical presence and the materials of the March of Dimes, but she also feels indebted to the organization for their endless work in researching prematurity. “I was so thankful for all the research that had been done because if I had given birth to triplets prematurely a few decades ago, what would have been their odds of survival?” she wonders.
The March of Dimes has created a net of support for mothers, their babies, and their families. Their work is not only restricted to labs, but it also expands into direct contact. Susie puts it best, “All in all our focus is the research, so we can figure out the whys and get down to the bottom of it to fix it instead of bandage it. But we also want to make sure that while the babies and parents are in the hospital, they get attention, and they feel comfortable with dealing with their little one. It’s a tough process, and we want to make sure they are equipped.” ■