Written by Bakersfield Magazine
When the March of Dimes was first created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to eradicate polio, no one would have ever guessed that after only 15 years of research, a vaccine would be found.
So in 1953, the organization was on the lookout for a new mission. And what did they find? They found a plea coming from some very tiny voices.
With a focus on preventing prematurity and other birth defects, the March of Dimes has been working hard to help keep babies healthy, generation after generation.
That’s why now is the time to lace up your walking shoes and join this year’s March for Babies.
On April, 17, the community rallied around our smallest citizens and their families and walked for a cause—to support the March of Dimes’ mission.
“Kern County is particularly impacted by birth defects,” said the 2010 March for Babies Chair, Paul Hensler.
As the CEO for Kern Medical Center (KMC), Hensler was happy to help coordinate this year’s walk.
“Some of the reasons these babies are born early are medical mysteries, so more research is key,” he added.
Past research has helped develop better equipment to help premature babies as young as 26 weeks survive.
Hensler said the reason KMC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has been so active with the March of Dimes is because there is a significant need in our community.
“So much of the mission involves education,” Hensler continued. “That includes teaching healthy habits to pregnant mothers who are unaware of the importance of diet and proper nutrition. At KMC, three-quarters of our mothers are high risk, so it’s a daily issue we see here.”
So as Chair, he had big goals for the walk this year. One was to increase the funds raised from last year’s walk and to continue to educate the community on the good the March of Dimes is doing in their mission to ensure every baby is born healthy.
It’s a mission that many families in Bakersfield have adopted as their own.
One of those families is the Lopez family. Like many of the groups that walk, the Lopezes have been affected by prematurity and positively impacted by the research and resources promoted by the March of Dimes.
Paula Lopez and her husband Juan, an OB/GYN, were excitedly expecting twin girls six years ago. The girls were going to add to their family, which already included a young son. Yet just months into the pregnancy, during a routine ultrasound, Juan discovered something unusual about the way the twins were growing: the girls were very close together in the same amniotic sac.
He knew this could potentially be a very dangerous situation for his babies. Paula and Juan were instantly concerned and the excitement they felt for their growing family was eclipsed by fear.
Those fears were painfully confirmed as Paula repeatedly noticed one of the babies not moving as much as the other. And tragically, 26 weeks into the pregnancy, doctors discovered that one of the babies had passed away.
“I just knew,” Paula said. “I could feel that she wasn’t as active as the other. And we came to find later that we were always only hearing one baby’s heartbeat during ultrasounds.”
Paula was immediately checked into the hospital, put on bed rest, and the surviving baby was monitored closely. After only four weeks, it was decided that Paula should undergo a c-section to deliver their baby at 30 weeks gestation.
“Monique was born screaming and crying,” Paula explained, a smile on her face. “And she’s still a fighter.”
She and Paul said their goodbyes to the baby they lost, whom they named Lupita.
“I held her that day and I still say I have two baby girls,” she added.
Because of Juan’s work, the couple found more information about the March of Dimes and what the long-standing organization is doing to help all babies be born healthy.
“We were approached to get involved with the walk and knew it could be a day for celebration,” Paula said.
Still, Paula and Juan think about Lupita every day.
“It’s hard to watch Monique play without thinking about her sister,” Paula explained. “But at least we have one of our girls.”
Today, a happy and healthy 5-year-old, Monique still talks about her sister and draws her as a baby with angel wings in all the family portraits she creates.
“It’s very difficult to talk about,” Paula continued. “But I wanted to tell my story so that more people will know how important it is to support the March of Dimes and the research they help fund. And I hope maybe some parents will hear our story and know they’re not alone.”
One family who has felt the warmth and compassion from other local families’ stories is the Monge family.
“When I was 20 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with placenta previa,” Candice Monge said.
It was the second pregnancy for Candice and her husband Javier, who were already busy taking care of a 2-year-old daughter. So finding out that there was a potential problem with the pregnancy was unnerving. Placenta previa is the term used to describe a condition that occurs when the placenta is positioned too close to the cervix, which can cause maternal bleeding and other complications.
“At that point, they put me on bed rest,” Candice explained.
As a pediatric and public health nurse, Candice knew the risks of having a premature baby and she did all she could to avoid delivering.
But only seven weeks later, baby Nico made his debut. He was 13 weeks early.
“He weighed only two pounds and five ounces,” she added. “And so he went straight to the NICU. He was in the hospital for a total of eight weeks.”
Thankfully, with the help of caring doctors and nurses, and advanced medical technology created especially for premature babies, Nico is a happy 2-year-old today.
“The March for Babies is an important day,” she says. “I participated in my first walk when I was 8 weeks pregnant with Nico and we’ve done it every year since. It’s a chance to bond with other families in the area who have gone through something you have. There’s a camaraderie with other parents.”
Javier is in agreement with Candice 100 percent.
“We jumped on board that first year and are grateful we did,” he said. “This was our fourth walk.”
Yet Javier is quick to point out that the walk serves many purposes for the families and friends of those who’ve dealt with prematurity and the complications it poses to new babies.
Families are there to celebrate a premature baby who beat the odds or to honor the memory of a baby who, unfortunately, didn’t.
“You can’t really understand the situation until you’re affected by this personally. And because we were so supported by other families and the March of Dimes, we feel like we owe it to them to keep walking. We’re thinking of other parents that are going through what we went through,” he added.
That’s why the Monges were delighted to join together as a family to walk. Last year, Nico took his first steps the day before the March. This year, the Monge family and everyone in attendance, was marching with little Nico leading the way. n
If you’d like more information on the March of Dimes or March for Babies, please visit marchforbabies.org or call (661) 369-1181.
Article appeared in our 27-1 Issue - April 2010