March of Dimes saves babies

April 20, 2000

For information about March of Dimes:

March of Dimes provides a toll-free number that offers referrals to those who need more information about birth defects or whose children need specific services. That number is 1-888-MODIMES (663-4637).

About WalkAmerica, call 1-800-525-WALK (9255).Web site: MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

Those who benefit most from March of Dimes efforts are too young to know it.

The nonprofit agency created in 1938 works to prevent birth defects and infant mortality.

cont. from lifestyle

In was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to fight polio and provided research funding that eventually helped lead to the development of the Salk vaccine.


Since then, research funded by the agency has helped develop surgery to correct defects while a baby is still in the womb. It also helped create neonatal intensive care units that provide specialized care to tiny babies.

"All babies benefit from what March of Dimes has done," said Nancy McElwee, events coordinator for WalkAmerica in Washington and Frederick counties. Walk-America is the agency's annual fund-raiser.

There are 3,000 to 5,000 different birth defects, the leading cause of infant death, according to the March of Dimes' Web site. While the causes of about 60 percent of them are unknown, deaths due to birth defects have been cut in half since 1960, according to the Web site.

Fund raising

"It's a miracle to have a healthy baby," said Shelly Rivello, community director for the Pennsylvania State Chapter's Cumberland Valley division, which includes Franklin, Fulton and Adams counties.

People working with the March of Dimes hope to multiply the number of those miracles by raising money to help babies.

Eighty percent of the money goes to research, advocacy, community service and education, Rivello said. The other 20 percent covers administrative costs.

WalkAmerica is the organization's biggest fund-raiser, according to the agency's Web site.

Since its inception in 1970, the walk has raised more than $1 billion. Now in its 30th year, Walk-America takes place in 1,400 communities, according to the Web site.

March of Dimes chapters raise money in other creative ways as well.

In the Eastern Panhandle, an auction called Star Chefs made its debut in October 1999. People pay to sample food and bid on packages including backyard ice cream parties, jewelry, meals, overnight stays and golf lessons.

Last year, Hedgesville High School's DECA Club helped recruit students from Hedgesville Elementary School for WonderWalk. Children in kindergarten to third grades raised more than $3,000 for March of Dimes, said Sherri Janelle, community director for the Eastern Panhandle division of the March of Dimes' West Virginia State Chapter.

Each fall, the Cumberland Valley division hosts a jail and bail event, during which people are "arrested" and others must pay their "bail," which goes to March of Dimes. Another fund-raiser, Blue Jeans for Babies, calls for people to pay for the opportunity to wear jeans to work, Rivello said.

"You really want everyone to hear the message. No donation is too small. No effort is too small," said Janelle, whose office is in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The payoff

For years, the March of Dimes has supported research that has helped bring healthier babies into the world.

One of the biggest campaigns of the last decade encourages women of childbearing age to take folic acid daily, whether or not they're planning a pregnancy.

The recommended daily amount is 400 micrograms or 0.4 milligrams.

Research shows that folic acid - a B vitamin - may help prevent brain and spinal cord defects known as neural tube defects.

In 1996, research supported by March of Dimes led to the use of nitric oxide to save premature babies from a deadly lung disorder, according to the Web site.

Dona Dei, director of program services for National Capital Area Chapter of March of Dimes, said babies born too early or too small who are struggling to breathe are given nitric oxide through a ventilator and "it's like night and day. It's a miracle and truly a godsend for them."

The most recent discovery is gene therapy.

A study being done by National Institutes of Health has identified almost all the genes in existence, she said. Researchers hope to come closer to treatments for diseases such as cystic fibrosis in the next decade.

The idea is to replace or counteract a faulty gene, Dei said.

Some see gene therapy as "the antibiotics for the 21st century," Dei said.

Last year, some mice with hemophilia were cured using gene therapy, according to the Web site.

"We've made such strides in the 20th century," Dei said.

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