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Working Together for Healthy Moms and Babies

 March of Dimes March 08, 2014
A nonprofit organization, the March of Dimes advocates for the health of new and expectant mothers and their babies, providing the latest in medical research and physician education and encouraging community involvement through local events.

By Sara Browning

March of Dimes is about the health of babies… all babies. A nationwide, nonprofit organization with chapters in all 50 states, the March of Dimes, through education and intervention, helps mothers-to-be and new mothers learn how to take care of themselves before, during, and after pregnancy. In fact, the March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.

“We’re Mom’s caring friend and the number one resource to help her benefit from full-term pregnancies and have healthy babies,” said L. Shannon Mathis, March of Dimes Central Illinois Division Director. “We partner with medical groups and organizations to establish guidelines for how to care for pregnant women. We research the problems that threaten our babies, such as prematurity, and make strides to prevent them. And if something does go wrong, we offer information and comfort to families.”

Mathis became familiar with the March of Dimes when her first baby was born premature, then her second, and her third. Having firsthand experience with the health challenges that threaten newborns, she understands the importance of the March of Dimes’ work and mission.

“Six years ago, I joined the March of Dimes so I could make a difference in the lives of others,” Mathis said. “Serving as the Central Illinois Division Director has given me an opportunity to get to know many families that have been touched by the March of Dimes through prematurity, birth defects, and infant mortality.”

The March of Dimes offers information to help expectant mothers prepare for a healthy baby. The organization also educates expectant mothers on proper health and nutrition, prenatal care, signs of labor, postpartum depression, newborn screenings, and newborn care to give more babies a healthy start in life.

Who Benefits?
The March of Dimes dates back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s personal struggle with polio, which led to the creation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Later known as the March of Dimes, the foundation turned its attention to preventing birth defects and infant mortality after a cure for polio was found.

More than 76 years later, the March of Dimes is still defending the health of babies. The nonprofit helped each of the 4 million babies born last year through research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. Over 2 million moms, dads, and health professionals received community services and education to improve their baby’s health.

Encouraging Local Involvement
Programs and events in local communities throughout Illinois are aimed at supporting moms-to-be and their little ones as well as health professionals. Started in 1970, March for Babies, an annual walking event that takes place this year on Saturday, April 26 at the Illinois State Fair Grounds - Orr Building, gives hope to the more than half a million newborns who are born premature every year. Funds raised from the walk support community programs that help expectant mothers carry babies to full term and research to curb the health challenges that threaten babies. The event has raised $2 billion to help babies begin life healthy.

Each year, millions of people walk with family and friends in approximately 900 communities across the country. Volunteers and staff encourage and support each year’s participants in their efforts to raise funds and awareness. Regardless of how many years a person has participated in the walk, the event is a fun, rewarding, and incredibly worthwhile experience.

“Families can take steps for healthy moms and babies right here in Springfield,” Mathis explained. “Family teams are the heart of March for Babies. The teams are made up of family members and friends. They walk to celebrate, honor, or remember the little ones who have touched their lives.”

Registration for March for Babies begins at 9 a.m. on April 26, and the event starts at 10 a.m. For more information, or to register, visit www.marchforbabies.org.

Ambassadors for Health
Local events, such as March for Babies, would not be possible without the tireless efforts of families and communities who selflessly give their time and effort to help raise awareness of the March for Dimes mission. Each year, the March of Dimes chooses one family to represent the local community. The March of Dimes 2014 Ambassador Family for Central Illinois is Shawn and Becky Griffith, son Kyle and daughter Kinley.

Born five-and-a-half weeks early and weighing just 4 pounds, 16 ounces, Kinley spent 18 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before coming home for the first time. Her mom, Becky, co-owns A New You Salon & Spa located at 2760 West Jefferson in Springfield. A New You Salon & Spa holds special giveaways throughout the year and also organizes a large team to walk in the March for Babies event.

“You never think that something like this would happen to you until it does,” Becky Griffith said. “I’m so grateful for the comfort and support the March of Dimes gave our family after the birth of Kinley. We participated in March for Babies, and I saw firsthand how so many families were impacted by the nonprofit through prematurity, birth defects, and infant mortality. I’m excited to be a part of this great organization!”

For more information on how to become involved in March for Babies, contact Griffith at 217-698-8220. Garnering Local Support In addition to A New You Salon & Spa, other Springfield businesses team with the March of Dimes to ensure babies are born healthy and strong.  Mylas Copeland, General Manager of Green Toyota Scion, Audi and VW, works with his business at Green Family Stores to contribute to the health of babies. Like the Griffins, the Copeland’s baby was born premature.

“After having a baby too early and spending some time in the NICU, my wife and I realized just how much the March of Dimes does to save babies’ lives,” Copeland said. “We will forever be grateful for the research and programs the March of Dimes has put into place. This is why we support the March of Dimes. After all, we’re all in this together!”

Advocating for Little Heroes
Advocacy is an important part of the March for Dimes’ mission. During the 2013 Legislative Session, the Illinois Chapter of the March of Dimes advocated for and composed several of pieces of legislation put in place to protect the health of newborn babies.

In coordination with the Illinois Heart Association, the Illinois Chapter composed legislation and successfully advocated for Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) to be added to Newborn Screening in Illinois. As a result, all newborn babies in the state will be screened for CCHD. Babies that have been identified with the disease can receive specialized care from cardiologists that can prevent disability and even death early in life.

The March of Dimes also drafted and advocated for legislation mandating neonatal intensive care unit personnel to discuss the health risks of pertussis (whooping cough) with the families and caretakers of hospitalized babies in the NICU. The legislation also requires personnel to tell parents who have babies with the illness where they may obtain the vaccine. This legislation will serve to increase adult vaccination levels, resulting in reduced infant exposure to a disease that is highly life threatening.

The Illinois Chapter successfully advocated for the Illinois Medicaid program to be expanded. Because of this legislation, in coordination with several health advocates around the state, all adults between the ages of 19 and 64 who live at or below the federal poverty line are eligible for Medicaid. The program’s expansion provides coverage for women of childbearing age who currently do not have access to preconception, interconception, and postpartum care.

Each year, March of Dimes mission families and volunteers meet with elected officials to advocate for stronger, healthier babies in our state. Individuals interested in participating in Lobby Day on May 7 in Springfield may contact Shelly Musser, State Director of Government Affairs, at 217-303-8877.

A Worthy Cause
The research, education, and events the March of Dimes Illinois Chapter provides could not be possible without the efforts of its supporters. Supporting the March of Dimes, whether through financial giving or volunteering, is a substantial part of what makes the nonprofit successful.

Individuals interested in volunteering can become involved in any number of venues, including participating in events, recruiting new volunteers, assisting with marketing communications, or coordinating mission outreach.

“Everyone — volunteer, supporter, mother — has their own story, but each shares the same goal: stronger, healthier babies,” Mathis said. “Thanks to our dedicated supporters, every dollar we raise helps more babies begin healthy lives. Communities come alive with joy and hope when thousands of businesses and families team up with the March for Dimes in any capacity. We look forward to working with you.”

The March of Dimes Central Illinois Division Office is located at 2060 West Iles Avenue, Street D, Springfield, IL 62704. Call 217-303-8876 for information on research, education, partnership, donations or community involvement. For more information on the March of Dimes Illinois Chapter, visit www.marchofdimes.com/illinois.

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 March of Dimes| March 08, 2014
Keywords:  Feature Story

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