Estimated $100K raised in Highland March of Dimes - May 15, 2016

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • May 15, 2016

By Anna Ortiz, Times Correspondent

Under an archway of purple and white balloons, about 1,000 people marched from Highland High School along the bike path from 41st Street to Erie Street on a sunny, yet crisp Sunday morning to end the No. 1 killer of babies in the U.S.: premature birth.

In the sea of marchers, strollers were in high numbers and Lisa Carpenter, division director of March of Dimes Northwest Indiana chapter, commented that this year there were significantly more family teams participating than before.

Beth West’s reason for her first time participating in the march Sunday was cozily bundled up in her arms, 6-month-old Blayze. West, of Portage, said he was born 3 months early and had to be in the hospital neonatal intensive-care unit for 72 days.

“It was hard, emotionally, having four kids at home. It was constantly, ‘OK, where do I need to be? At home or in the hospital?’” West said. “The NICU nurses helped a lot, I can’t praise them enough, I don’t know how I could’ve gotten through it without them.”

West said while Blayze is now a healthy baby boy, she still panics sometimes when she thinks she doesn’t see his chest moving up and down.

“As hard as the experience was, I don’t think I would change it because it opened my eyes to all that is out there,” she said. “Be aware, you think it’s not a big issue but it is. If you see those donation jars, throw some change in if you can spare it. I was fortunate that my son survived, but there are so many that don’t.”

Her story is not isolated from the rest of Lake and Porter counties, which rank as having the third-highest infant mortality rate of the state’s 11 hospital regions with a rate of 8 percent, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. And in Indiana, 1 in 7 babies is born preterm.

Michelle Cherry, a board member of March of Dimes Northwest Indiana, said smoking and obesity play huge roles in Lake County’s high amount of infant deaths.

“In this area, there’s also a high disparity of access to prenatal care,” Cherry said, who is also the NICU pediatric manager of Community Hospital in Munster.

And with America’s health care concern in the public eye, the issue of prenatal and infant care doesn’t get brought up enough according to two women, whose mission is to bring that care to everyone.

Millie Guevara and Nichelle Corley, outreach enrollment specialists for HealthLinc Community Health Center, see this issue firsthand as they help young mothers find help with prenatal and postnatal care for themselves and their babies. HealthLinc helps both the insured and uninsured, so “that no one is turned away.”

They said they have seen a rise in increasingly younger and younger girls, some even as young as 14 and 15, needing help and also many single mothers. Corley said they have been visiting high schools and speaking with school nurses to try and reach these women who are in desperate need of information and resources to ensure their baby can live a healthy life.

“They just need that head start,” Corley said. “We didn’t have that before. Before, you had a lot of midwives delivering children at home because the family didn’t have insurance.”

March of Dimes ambassador families Amelia Kowalisyn and Angelica Guzman addressed the crowd before the march began. They shared their experiences of being mothers to prematurely born babies, and the long days and nights spent in the NICU.

A mother of two, Guzman is looking forward to finally knowing what it’s like to be 9 months pregnant. Her two young sons were both born more than 20 weeks premature, and she had also lost her second born.

“I prayed and prayed for God to give me my little boy back. And here he is, I got my Eli,” Guzman said, smiling at her youngest son.

As she addressed the crowd, she was 17 weeks pregnant and ready to do her best walking the 5K, confident in her new baby’s future.

“It’s important to note that all of the funds raised in Lake County stay right here,” Doreen Norris-Stojak said, March of Dimes Northwest Indiana board member said, “To help the babies born here.”

All who wish to volunteer with March of Dimes can contact Carpenter at lcarpenter@marchofdimes.org.