Walk Suffolk for WalkAmerica

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

Ashlynn Marie Bennett is the 17-month old daughter of Ray and Lorrie Bennett of Suffolk. She was born premature with half of her heart missing, and she battled pneumonia the first 11 days of her life. Transported to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Ashlynn was diagnosed with congenital heart disease.

The tiny baby had her first open-heart surgery when she was only 15 days old. That was done at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she spent 26 days in the cardiac intensive care unit. She also had to undergo a second heart operation, and around age 2 she will go through a third heart surgery.

Each year more babies in this country die because of birth defects, low birth-weight and pre-maturity than any other cause, but the March of Dimes is on a mission to end such problems through its &uot;WalkAmerica&uot; campaigns.

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Through its nationwide &uot;Campaign for Healthier Babies,&uot; the March of Dimes raises funds to support research, education, and health services to overcome these critical problems. Locally, &uot;Suffolk WalkAmerica&uot; is the city’s largest annual project for the March of Dimes, and this year’s event is expected to draw more than 300 walkers.

The Suffolk WalkAmerica will be held Sunday, April 27, beginning with registration at 12:30 p.m. Suffolk 2002 &uot;TeamWalk&uot; participants exhibited great enthusiasm as they made the loop from downtown through Riverview, Lakeside and back.

Bethanne D. Bradshaw, local walk committee chairperson, said the walkers raised almost $45,000 last year to help the March of Dimes’ Campaign for Healthier Babies.

&uot;The target for WalkAmerica 2003 in Suffolk is $50,000,&uot; said Bradshaw, who is also the public information officer for Suffolk Public Schools. &uot;For a third year, the kick-off point and after-walk celebration will be held at the courtyard beside the Mills E. Godwin Municipal Court Complex on North Main Street in downtown Suffolk.&uot;

Bradshaw said the sponsors for the 2003 Suffolk Walk include Gold Sponsor Ciba Specialty Chemicals. QVC is a T-shirt sponsor, and the Start/Finish Sponsors include Physical Therapy Works, Duke Automotive, Starr Motors, Supreme Petroleum, Lakeview Medical Center, Suffolk Public Schools, and Sharon’s Hair Designs. Sponsorship opportunities are still available at the $500 and $100 levels. Call Bradshaw at 925-5500 for more information.

WalkAmerica is the March of Dimes’ largest fund-raising event. Last year, more than half a million people walked in some 1,400 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The WalkAmerica projects raise more than a million dollars each year and this year’s goal is $100 million. WalkAmerica supports March of Dimes’ programs to help babies be born healthy

About 75 percent of the money generated by WalkAmerica is used to pay for program services for recipients like Ashlynn. Each year, more than 460,000 babies in the U.S. are born prematurely. Some babies are so small doctors cannot save them. Others may suffer lifelong consequences such as blindness or mental retardation, and healthcare costs for premature babies are about 10 times higher than for babies born full term.

&uot;No one is working harder than March of Dimes to get our babies off to a health start,&uot; said Bennett. &uot;By volunteering for WalkAmerica, we can raise money for research into the causes and preventions for prematurity and birth defects. We can also educate women on how to have a healthy pregnancy and to recognize the signs of pre-term labor.&uot;

For more than 22 years, Ashlynn’s grandfather, Jerry Cobleigh has served as a volunteer, and is on the March of Dimes Board of Directors. When Ashlynn was born, he spent a great deal of time watching over his tiny grandchild as she lay in the hospital. Not once during his years as a volunteer did he ever imagine his family would have need of March of Dimes services. He has seen first hand the results of WalkAmerica and the research for which it pays.

As Bradshaw explained, over the years, the March of Dimes has ensured many successes including conquering the ravages of polio, developing the PKU newborn screening tests, and creating the life-saving surfactant therapy to help premature babies breathe. They also build neo-natal intensive care units such as the one at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

In addition to Bradshaw, this year’s local committee includes Sharon Lassister, revenue chairman; Jackie Russell of the Suffolk Health Department; Kim Urie of Ciba Specialty Chemicals; Lori White of Obici Health Systems; Donna McIntosh of Lakeview Medical Center; Linda Story of the City of Suffolk; and Melissa Carr of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency with the mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies.

More information is available on the March of Dimes Web sites at www.modimes.org and www.nacersano.org