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Local walkers take to the streets in March of Dimes fundraiser

April 30, 2006|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN

It's every mother's fear - going into labor early, then hoping your baby will be strong enough to survive.

Amanda Zueno experienced that fear twice.

Both of her children were born prematurely.

"With my first child, Joseph, who is now 20 months-old, it was a shock," the Hagerstown resident said. "I began having labor pains at 33 weeks and didn't know what to think. With my daughter, Alyssa, who was born about a month ago, it was less of a surprise. But both times, it was kind of scary."

Today, Zueno is the proud parent of two healthy children.

"I know my family is very lucky," she said. "That's why I want to show my support for other moms who might have the same experience."

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Zueno was among hundreds of individuals who participated Saturday in WalkAmerica, a fundraising event that benefits the March of Dimes.

The 5 1/2-mile walk began at Long Meadow Shopping Center and continued to City Park and back.

According to Melissa Clark, division director for the Western Maryland Division of the March of Dimes, proceeds from the walk will be used for local grants and to fund infant health research.

"We also provide support and educational materials to moms and their babies," Clark said. "We are there for anyone who needs us."

Clark said organizers of the local WalkAmerica were hoping to raise $100,000 through pledges.

"Every year, 500,000 babies are born prematurely," Clark said. "In Maryland, one in eight babies is born early. We want to change those statistics. In fact, by the year 2010, the March of Dimes hopes to reduce premature births by 7.9 percent. Money raised through events such as WalkAmerica will go a long way in making that goal a reality."

Phil Kelly, chairperson for this year's walk, noted that 700 people had registered for the local event.

"Many people who are participating have been affected in some way by premature births or infant mortality," Kelly said. "Others are good citizens who want to support the March of Dimes. It's a cause that many people rally around."

Cara Arnold of Hagerstown said she was participating in Saturday's walk to honor her niece, who was born prematurely.

"She's now in kindergarten and is a smart, active little girl," Arnold said. "But when she came into this world earlier than we expected, it was a frightening experience for the whole family."

By being part of WalkAmerica, Arnold said she hoped that the pledge money she raised will help find a cure for prematurity and birth defects.

"Every child's arrival in this world should be a happy and healthy one," she said.

Premature births can lead to medical complications and lifetime disabilities and can decrease a baby's chances of survival, according to information provided by the March of Dimes. Preterm or premature labor happens when the mother goes into labor before reaching 37 weeks of pregnancy.

WalkAmerica became a national fundraiser in 1970, and since then has raised more than $1.5 billion for research grants, community services, education and advocacy.

For more information on the March of Dimes annual WalkAmerica fundraiser, go to www.walkamerica.org.

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