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Giving premature babies a chance at life

FARMINGTON – When Laci Straughan was born, she weighed less than the bag of flour in her mommy’s pantry. She was born during an emergency Cesarean section on Aug. 23, 2004, nine weeks premature. She weighed only three pounds and five ounces. At Children’s Hospital, moments after her birth, Laci was immediately whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit.

“She was jaundiced and couldn’t hold her body temperature – it would dip to the low 90s,” said her mother, Susie. “They had to put in a breathing tube because her lungs were so underdeveloped. She couldn’t take a bottle and would take less than half a teaspoon of formula.”

She was hooked up to an I.V. that pumped fluids into her. She was on a heart monitor and was cared for by an army of doctors and nurses.

The March of Dimes was instrumental in developing the kind of care for premature infants Laci needed. Now, they’re working to raise money that will help other children.

The Straughans are telling their story as the Ambassador Family for WalkAmerica at 6 p.m. Thursday starting at Long Park in Farmington. Registration begins at 5 p.m. Billed as the “Starlight Stroll,” walkers will be treated to free food and music before they take to the streets of downtown.

Susie Straughan will tell her daughter’s story. She says Laci was already a miracle since doctors had told Susie “pregnancy was unlikely” because she has polycystic ovarian disease. So when Susie and her husband Nick learned they were having a child, they were surprised and elated.

“I did everything I was supposed to do for pre-natal care,” said Susie. “All the ultrasounds were normal. One test had shown she might have Down’s Syndrome, but there was nothing else that caused us any alarm.”

But Susie began having some problems that put her in and out of the hospital in the two weeks before Laci was born. And then, she said doctors decided the baby’s best chance for life would be to deliver her early.

Laci spent six weeks in the hospital before she was allowed to come home. Then, she weighed just under five pounds.

“Her crying was so quiet because her lungs were not developed,” Susie explained. “She slept in her bouncy chair because of congestion that might have been related to her prematurity.”

When Susie returned to her job as a Community Support Worker with BJC Behavioral Health, doctors told her Laci couldn’t go to daycare. They said she would be too susceptible to germs. And so Laci is cared for at home by family and friends.

Now, at eight months, with big brown eyes and a ready smile, she is still small, but healthy.

“She is a little behind developmentally,” Susie explained, with Laci in her lap chewing on her favorite toy – a frog rattle. “She can’t sit up on her own. She can’t roll over yet from her back to her stomach. She gets breathing treatments each day and an injection to prevent RSV (a respiratory illness common in infants).”

And Susie is quick to credit the March of Dimes for her daughter’s life.

“If it wasn’t for the March of Dimes, who knows if she would have lived?” she said.

The March of Dimes funds medical research that saves babies like Laci and offers education in pre-natal care. The local walk has been held for 14 years and the fundraising goal for this year is $34,750.

Mary Forest co-chairs the event with Mary McEntire.

“I have two healthy children and that’s what this is all about,” Forest said.

WalkAmerica is the March of Dimes’ biggest fundraiser held across the country. Donations may be made at Long Park on the night of the walk which covers about one and a half miles.

“This is a great family fun event,” said McEntire. “We’ll have games for kids, face-painting and door prizes. If anyone has a child they love, they should come and participate. KFMO will broadcast from the event.”

Pre-registration isn’t necessary. To find out more, contact McEntire at 747-2074.

Eighty-nine cents of every dollar raised goes to research, advocacy, community service and education. McEntire said everyone has been touched by the March of Dimes because the organization has been involved in such things as: polio shots, development of the PKU test after birth, the Rubella vaccine, Lung Surfactant Therapy preventing a premature infant from dying of RSV, education about how alcohol, drugs and tobacco use affect pregnancy and birth or are alerting women to consume the B vitamin Folic Acid to protect an unborn baby against birth defects.

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