Walking in Some Pretty Small Footsteps

Karlee is one in a million.  What you can’t tell by looking at her, is that she’s actually one of 11.9, the percentage of babies born preterm in Montana in her birth year of 2006.

How do I describe Karlee?  Well, she’s a budding fashionista complete with hair accessories, and a big fan of Minnie Mouse.  She’s also five going on fifteen (just ask her mom), and she’s an absolute testament to the breakthroughs in modern medicine.

Karlee was born at 31 ½ weeks gestation and weighed 3lbs 6oz.  She was in the NICU for 40 days.  Her mom described to me the huge number of medical treatments she received in NICU.  They included a C-Pap, followed by oxygen through the nasal canal, and feedings through a small, narrow tube inserted through her nostril and placed down the throat, esophagus, and into her stomach. She was constantly hooked to monitors that monitored her heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and oxygen level, and she spent time under phototherapy lights to help with jaundice. She was given caffeine to help stimulate her breathing, and she basically had to learn how to suck, swallow and breathe all at the same time in order to go home.

Karlee’s mom also explained to me that the difficulties of having a preterm baby do not end when they get to come home.  As momentous as that is, they almost always need further medical treatment.

I can tell you all about the trials of having a preterm baby, but ultimately, Karlee’s story is a happy one.  Not all are.  Babies born at less than 37 weeks gestation have three times the infant death rate of those born after 37 weeks.  Medical breakthroughs have drastically increased the survival rate for preterm babies, from a less than 25% survival rate for extremely preterm births thirty years ago, to an almost 90% survival rate today.

Previous research saved Karlee, and every year, she and her mom form a team in the March for Babies hoping that someday, all babies will be born healthy.  The Billings walk this year is being held on Saturday, April 28th at Pioneer Park. Registration begins at 9:00 am, and the walk starts at 10:00 am.

The March of Dimes has an interesting history.  It was established in 1938 by FDR to combat infant paralysis caused by polio.  The inventor of the polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk, was actually a March of Dimes grant researcher.  Twenty years later, the focus shifted to birth defects and now includes research and development of treatments for preterm and low birth weight babies, and prevention of preterm birth.  The March for Babies has been taking place since 1970 and has raised over 2 billion dollars.  The March for Babies website can be found at http://marchforbabies.org/.  You can learn more about the organization and their mission, make a donation to a team like Karlee’s (Team Karlee Albertson), or set up your own team to walk for this great cause.

Karlee’s team walks so that every baby gets the opportunity to be one in a million.  My feet are inspired.  How about yours?

Lots of thanks to Karlee and her parents for letting me share her incredible story and beautiful pictures with you!