WalkAmerica aims to raise $700,000

Published: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 11:25 p.m.
A group of 200 employees and CEOs, high schoolers and school administrators gathered at the Holiday Inn West Thursday to kick off the 2005 WalkAmerica campaign for the March of Dimes in North Central Florida.
Their goal is to raise $700,000 to be used for research, community services and education in the battle against premature birth.
Honorary chair for this year's campaign is Chris Machen, a former neonatal intensive-care nurse and wife of University of Florida President Bernie Machen.
"To find the answers to the 'why' of prematurity takes money," Chris Machen told the crowd of walk team leaders.
The costs of prematurity are easy to count, however. Thirteen percent of the new babies in Florida this year will be born at less than 37 weeks' gestation. A normal pregnancy is about 40 weeks.
In 2002, there were 26,725 premature babies born in Florida, equivalent to the population of the city of Winter Haven, Machen said.
Just one year after arriving in Gainesville, Machen said she is happy to be taking the helm of a campaign that looks to set a new record in fund raising. Last's year's WalkAmerica in Alachua County raised $670,000.
The luncheon meeting came just one day after a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that nearly half of the infants born extremely premature, at fewer than 27 weeks, suffer significant learning and physical disabilities by the time they reach school age.
"The number of preterm births is rising every year in the United States," said Dr. Scott Berns of the March of Dimes, in response to the British study. "Too many babies are born extremely premature, and the result is that many of them die in the hospital or suffer lifelong consequences."
Machen noted that prematurity is both the top health risk for America's newborns and the leading cause of death in the first month of life.
Prematurity is on the rise, increasing 39 percent since 1981. The total national hospital bill for inpatient hospital stays with any diagnosis of prematurity or low birth weight in 2002 was estimated at $15.5 billion by the March of Dimes.
Machen, who has spent more than 20 years as a NICU nurse, added that a woman can do everything right in terms of prenatal care and still have a premature baby. In half the cases of premature birth, there is no discernible cause.
The March of Dimes is in the third year of a five-year, $75 million national campaign to change the figures reported for premature birth.
Machen urged everyone to turn out for WalkAmerica, set for March 19, and asked each person to walk for someone they love.
"Premature babies need hope, love and you," she said.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com. To learn more: For more information on prematurity, the March of Dimes and WalkAmerica
  • Visit the Web site, www.marchofdimes.com.
  • Call the local office, (352) 378-9522.
  • Register to walk online at www.walkamerica.org.
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