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Lauren’s parents, Nikki and Densel, never imagined that their first child would be born 3½ months early and weighing only 2 pounds, 1 ounce. They watched and waited while Lauren was treated in the NICU at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., for respiratory distress and underwent multiple surgeries related to a damaged vocal cord and a heart defect. Nikki says, “Not having our baby girl home for the first 5 months of her life was agonizing. We visited her in the hospital every day, but during the night if she needed comfort, I couldn’t just walk down to her room and hold her. Those are 5 months I will never get back.”
Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. More than half a million babies are born prematurely in the United States each year, and those who survive often face lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. As a longtime March of Dimes volunteer, Densel knew that as African-Americans, he and Nikki were at 50 percent greater risk of having a premature child.
Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes says, “Infants born to African-American women have the highest prematurity rate of all racial groups. In 2008, the preterm birth rate for non-Hispanic African-American infants was 17.5 percent compared to 11.1 percent among non-Hispanic white infants and 12.3 percent for the nation. We are grateful to the Fleming family for helping the March of Dimes bring attention to this devastating problem.”
Lauren still has some health problems because of her early birth, but her family says she is doing great. She is a warm and loving child who makes friends easily and loves to dance, draw, create storybooks and read. The Flemings are grateful for the March of Dimes research and treatment that helped Lauren beat the odds and helped their other two children, Erin and Corbin, be born healthy.
As National Ambassador, Lauren will travel the country with her family to share her amazing story, help raise awareness of premature birth and encourage families and companies to walk with them in March for Babies® this spring. Densel says, “Knowing that my daughter benefited because I and thousands of other volunteers have been supporting the March of Dimes for years, is an unbelievable feeling. Nikki and I are thrilled now to be able to share our story on a national level and be able to ask others to give back in support of this organization that is working for stronger, healthier babies.”
The March of Dimes National Ambassador Program is an annual campaign, started in 1946, that puts a face on the March of Dimes mission. United Airlines will continue to serve as the official airline sponsor of the March of Dimes National Ambassador Program. United Airlines President and CEO, Jeff Smisek, said, “We are honored to be the official airline sponsor of the National Ambassador Program for the 6th consecutive year. This gives us the opportunity to support a family who has been through so much and is committed to giving back. We look forward to having Lauren and her family fly with United Airlines and we remain committed to fighting premature birth.”
To follow Lauren as she travels the country, visit Lauren’s blog at marchofdimes.com/laurensstory. And you can watch Lauren’s story below.
Across the country, youth volunteers are gearing up for March for Babies season by organizing big ticket concerts on campus, hosting bake sales, and leading carwashes in order to reach their March for Babies fundraising goal. The March of Dimes National Youth Council and Collegiate Council Ambassadors are no different!
The National Youth Council is comprised of 19 college students throughout the country who are strongly dedicated to our mission. Through their hard work, they provide support to national & chapter staff, national service partners, and youth volunteers throughout the nation. Each year, the National Youth Council sets a fundraising goal for the year. This year’s council has set their goals high by planning to raise $15,000, collectively, for March for Babies, $5,000 more than the last year’s goal! Each member has begun preparations for March for Babies events and activities in order to reach (and possibly exceed) this goal.
The Collegiate Council Ambassadors are college volunteer leaders who are dedicated to year-round activities to support the March of Dimes mission in their local community. The Ambassadors have started the semester strong by registering for March for Babies and recruiting team members to walk and assist in the fundraising efforts. In preparation to their March for Babies virtual training meeting with staff, they have started developing goals for the semester. Each is working hard in conjunction with local partners and/or National Service Organizations, both on campus and in their community, as well as local March of Dimes chapters to host fundraising events and activities.
Do you want to or know someone who wants to further raise awareness and funds for the March of Dimes by becoming a leader for March of Dimes Team Youth? Nominations are now open for those interested in joining the National Youth Council and/or becoming a Collegiate Council Ambassador. Nominations must be made by a March of Dimes staff person, National Youth Council Member, or advisor. Students applying to the Council must be freshman through juniors in college as of September 2011, and Ambassadors must be freshman through seniors in college as of September 2011. National Youth Council & Collegiate Council Ambassador Descriptions and nomination information can be found online at: http://bit.ly/i4T5mG.
The deadline for nominations is February 14, 2011.