Area is kicking off WalkAmerica plans


Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 8, 2003 at 11:27 p.m.

Facts

FYI: March of Dimes

  • The 19th annual WalkAmerica is set for March 22.
  • This year's goal for the local chapter is to raise 525,000.

  • Some 200 team leaders and corporate CEOs gathered Wednesday to kick off plans for the 19th annual March of Dimes WalkAmerica, set for March 22.
    This year, the March of Dimes will focus its efforts on premature births in an attempt to help the more than 460,000 babies born too small, too sick and too early in the United States each year.
    Dr. David Burchfield, professor of pediatrics in the University of Florida's College of Medicine and chief of neonatology at Shands at UF, told the group that Florida is "in dire straits, ranking 46th in the nation when it comes to prevention of prematurity.
    "This has a huge ripple effect (in terms of cost to society)," he said.
    Premature birth can have lifelong consequences, including blindness, mental retardation and neurological complications.
    Nearly half of the premature births nationally happen for unknown reasons. Those babies born after less than 29 weeks gestation are at much greater risk of dying, Burchfield said, but added "the problems don't stop when you save the baby."
    The neonatologist said that 285 such babies were born at Shands at UF last year.
    "The goal is to delay the end of pregnancy and keep these babies in the best incubator we know of - their mother's womb," he said.
    This year's goal for the local WalkAmerica chapter is to raise $525,000, according to Portia Taylor, vice president for student affairs at Santa Fe Community College. Taylor will serve as honorary co-chair this year with her husband, Curtis Jefferson, SFCC's associate vice president for liberal arts and science.
    "Prematurity is an enormous problem, however you count it," Taylor said.
    It accounts for $1 billion in hospital charges each year, and results in 100,000 cases of asthma, retardation and cerebral palsy. Lifetime medical expenses for these children average $500,000 a year, she said.
    Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs in research, community services, education and advocacy to save babies. The North Central Florida division has consistently ranked first in the nation in its WalkAmerica effort.
    This year, organizers say, they aim to hold on to that title.
    "In focusing on prematurity, the March of Dimes is addressing an age-old problem," said Marilyn Tubb. "We're asking each participant to be a hero for the tiniest babies."
    Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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