March of Dimes still lifting area families 75 years after start


Christopher White holds his daughter Noelle while his wife, Jessica, holds Noelle's twin sister, Shiloh, 6 weeks, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Shands at the University of Florida on Monday. The twins were born at 27 weeks.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 1:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 1:35 p.m.

Tim Goldfarb, CEO of Shands at the University of Florida, remembers coming home from school to find his father, Joseph, painting pictures, "one brush stroke at a time."

Facts

IF YOU GO

You can register as an individual or as part of a late team at www.marchforbabies.org or in person on Saturday from 7-8 a.m., at Westwood Middle School Athletic Field. A minimum walker collection of $15 for youth and $25 for adults is encouraged. Runners start at 7:55 a.m. and walkers at 8 a.m. There will be 14 rest stops with refreshments along the way. There will also be a lunch and entertainment at the end of the walk, and this year's top fundraising teams will be announced.

But his father wasn't using his hands to paint: He was using the muscles of his mouth, which was attached to a stick, at the end of which was a paintbrush. His body was enclosed in an iron lung that enabled him to breathe.

Like many Americans in the 1950s, Goldfarb's father had polio, which frequently caused paralysis. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also had polio and started the March of Dimes in 1938 to combat the disease and help families struck by it.

Goldfarb's family was among the first generation of its beneficiaries, and the CEO has continued to support the organization — now in its 75th year — throughout his life.

At his spacious, corner office at the Shands Cancer Hospital, Goldfarb recalled carrying his father, who weighed just 60 pounds, in and out of the iron lung, which he said was about the size of the conference table he sits at.

"I got to be a pretty good nurse," Goldfarb said. "That's how I got into this."

"I can still actually hear the motor," he continued, showing black-and-white pictures of his father in the iron lung, and one of his father sitting up, with his son standing right behind. "He couldn't move his arms or legs, but he was a great father," Goldfarb said. "Life went on."

While Goldfarb was growing up, "All of our living expenses were paid for by the March of Dimes," he recalled, adding that once a polio vaccine was developed, with funding from the organization, "I was one of the first persons in my neighborhood to get it."

Contemporary cause

Across the street from Goldfarb's office, in the neonatal intensive care unit at Shands at UF, are some of the contemporary beneficiaries of the organization's causes, which include prematurity, birth defects and pregnant women's health.

One couple at Shands, Jessica and Christopher White of Ocala, held their twin baby girls, Shiloh and Noelle, born one minute apart, at just 27 weeks.

Calling them a "miracle," Jessica explained that her fertility journey, starting from when she began trying to conceive six years ago, was fraught with difficulty. After various fertility treatments, Jessica, now 36, said that when she was down to her last five eggs, "we had a one-shot deal."

Two of the eggs fertilized — and "you're looking at them," she said. "I'm just thankful that we're here. We've gone through a lot to get where we are."

The Whites are also thankful for the free meals at Shands that Publix Supermarkets has been providing during the month of March, as part of its support of the March of Dimes.

"I was round the clock pumping breast milk, so just to be able to leave here and walk down the hall (for dinner) makes it so much easier," said White, who together with her husband, Christopher, recalled the soups and sandwiches, spaghetti and casseroles that have nourished them for the past few weeks.

Christopher White, a cross-country runner in high school, said he used to run for certain causes, and the March of Dimes was one of those.

"I knew I was helping babies, but I never thought that I would be on the other end of it," Christopher White said.

Saturday marks Gainesville's 23rd annual "March for Babies," the culmination of fundraising efforts by local businesses and organizations that last year raised $740,000 for the March of Dimes. Gainesville consistently raises more money per capita than any other city in the nation, according to the local branch of the March of Dimes.

Gainesville's "march," an 8.5-mile walk (or run), starts and ends at Westwood Middle School's athletic field.

The Whites won't be walking this Saturday, but they plan to lend their support in the future.

"Now that we're living it, I feel like I'll want to do it more, and if the opportunity comes up to donate, we'll jump on it," Jessica White said.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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