MODESTO — Working to ensure that babies are born strong and healthy is serious business, but raising money to fund that work can be a blast.
The March of Dimes Valley Division will hold a March for Babies Saturday morning starting in Graceada Park in Modesto, to be followed in the afternoon by a fund-raising party at Full Force Personal Training in Modesto.
Because this is the March of Dimes' 75th anniversary, walkers and supporters this weekend will be extra festive, said Dena Pimentel, a family team specialist at the organization's Modesto office.
March for Babies participants about 300 teams, meaning thousands of walkers will come to three rest stops along the route, sponsored by Sutter Gould, Heald College and Kaplan College. Sutter Gould's stop will have a 1970s theme, with disco dancers and music of the era, such as the appropriately inspiring "I Will Survive," Pimentel said. Kaplan plans a boxing ring theme, promoting the March of Dimes' fight against premature births. And Heald, which is celebrating its 100th year, will have a birthday party theme.
The March for Babies will head from Graceada to Morris Avenue, then west to the Virginia Corridor bike and pedestrian trail, which will be the bulk of the walk. It's primarily for teams that already have raised money, but Pimentel said anyone is welcome to join the march by making a donation to the March of Dimes. Registration is at 8 a.m. The march begins at 9.
The party at Full Force, from 3 to 7 p.m., is open to the public. Organizers are hoping for a strong turnout, knowing that Saturday also will have lots of Love Modesto volunteers out and about, said Marisol Fernandez. She is an owner of Full Force Personal Training, 4622 Glass Court, Suite I, one of the businesses putting on the party.
"It's open to anybody," she said, noting that the celebration will include performances by two comics, other entertainment, face painting, a henna tattoo artist, stunt bicycling, a live auction and a raffle with prizes from donors that include Jacobs Fine Dining, Fuzio Universal Bistro and Greens.
"There's no charge to come, just a fee for whatever they'd like to do," Fernandez said. Face painting, for example, is $2 and the barbecue dinner is $10. All proceeds go to March of Dimes.
Fernandez is mom to a preemie, 2-year-old Max Barrera, who's been selected the 2014 ambassador for the five-county March of Dimes Valley Division. Both Max and the 2013 ambassador, RaeAnn Rodrigues, will be at Saturday's march.
In 2011, when RaeAnn was born to Paul and Kirsten Rodrigues, Kirsten experienced serious complications 26 weeks into her pregnancy. After Kirsten had been in the hospital a week, RaeAnn was delivered 13 weeks early, weighing just 1 pound, 15 ounces. The little girl received surfactant therapy for her lungs, a procedure developed through March of Dimes-funded research. After a 73-day stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, RaeAnn was able to go home, weighing 3 pounds, 13 ounces. Today, she experiences minimal lasting effects of her prematurity.
Max also was born in 2011, to Fernandez and David Barrera. He came 15 weeks early and weighed just 1 pound, 11 ounces. His prematurity resulted from an undetected uterus deformity. "Eighty-five percent of women who have what I have, their body doesn't allow them to go past the first trimester," Fernandez said.
She had all of her regular prenatal checkups and everything appeared fine, until one morning she woke up hemorrhaging. She was stabilized, then spent six days in the hospital as medical personnel worked to inhibit labor. But when contractions began, Max was born just an hour later, Fernandez said.
"I was really blessed because Doctors Medical Center doctors have the best neonatal care in the valley," she said. "Max was there the first 3½ months of his life."
He then went to Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University, where he underwent open heart bypass surgery to close 18 holes in his heart. Other holes were small enough to close on their own as Max grew.
Because of his prematurity, Max also was born with severe eye and lung problems, his mother said. He had retinal detachment, for example, because his eyes hadn't fully developed.
Today, he's a happy and for the most part healthy little boy. He just had his two-year checkup and appears to face no further surgeries, Fernandez said, though he regularly receives developmental, speech and physical therapy. "He's only just a little behind in his language, but otherwise great," she said.
Fernandez said she's thankful to March of Dimes for the research and programs it funds that help not just premature babies, but all babies and mothers. The organization funds educational programs for mothers and studies on treatments, medications and health screenings. "Every child born has been touched by the March of Dimes because of the studies they push, so that all kids don't have to learn about an issue at age 10 or 15 when it could have been addressed right away," she said.
As mom of Ambassador Max, Fernandez will speak at March of Dimes walks and other events, telling their story, raising awareness and urging people to donate and otherwise participate in fund-raising.
Within the Valley Division's five counties Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne there are two March for Babies events a year, one in Modesto and one in Stockton, she said. "With more people involved, we could have more walks," translating into greater awareness of the March of Dimes' mission, more funding for research and, ultimately, more strong, healthy babies.
On the Net: www.marchofdimes.com/california.
Bee local news editor Deke Farrow can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2327.