Area organizers set big goal for WalkAmerica campaign


Santa Fe Community College President Jackson Sasser and his wife Layne, 2007 honorary WalkAmerica chairs, receive a photograph of themselves Friday with baby Noah, who is in intensive care at Shands. The pair are attending the WalkAmerica Executive Luncheon.

ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 12:02 a.m.

This year, the North Central Florida division of the March of Dimes is upping the ante, shooting to raise a million dollars in the 2007 WalkAmerica campaign.

That was the word from Jackson and Layne Sasser, the husband-and-wife WalkAmerica cochairs who spoke to some 200 people gathered for the campaign's kickoff lunch Friday.

Sasser, president of Santa Fe Community College, pointed to Gainesville's unique position as home to national championship college football and basketball teams.

He noted that the North Central Florida division of the March of Dimes has been a champion for babies for more than 20 years, ranked No. 1 in the country in terms of per capita giving.

"Let's put up one more No. 1," Sasser urged executives and team captains at the event. "I believe we can raise $1 million for the research and education effort to fight prematurity in the United States."

Ever-improving prenatal monitoring and maternal health care has done nothing to reduce the nation's premature birth rate, which has confounded researchers. In fact, the percentage of babies born prematurely has increased about 30 percent over the past 25 years, putting more children than ever at risk of lifelong developmental problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control's Dr. William Callaghan, prematurity is the leading cause of infant death, more significant even than birth defects.

Nationwide, according to the March of Dimes, 12.5 percent of live births in 2004 were pre-term, compared with 11 percent in 1994 and single-digit prematurity rates in the 1980s.

For many other babies, premature delivery has no known cause — and can put them at a lifelong disadvantage.

The cost to society in 2005, in terms of continuing medical care, educational needs and lost productivity, was more than $26.2 billion, according to an Institute of Medicine study.

As Linda Traupane, SFCC's team captain, told the group, "We've all heard the numbers but never think we will be one of the statistics."

That changed for Traupane just about a year ago when her daughter gave birth 10 weeks early in Boca Raton.

Sasser urged CEOs of businesses and organizations attending the lunch to pledge at least $1,500 and to take part in the walk itself. Online registration at www.walkamerica.org is easy, he emphasized.

Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com

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