A fighting chance for babies

Published 9:58 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

We think it’s wonderful that the March of Dimes selects success stories to help highlight its work to reduce the incidence of premature birth and provide support and resources for the parents of children who are born prior to full term, and it’s even better that the organization chooses local families as the face of its efforts during its annual fundraising March for Babies campaign.

Suffolk has two babies to serve as its poster children for the event this year, 9-month-old identical twins Owen and Emmett Jenkins, who were born last May at 30 weeks and spent 49 and 56 days, respectively, in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s Special Care Nursery before finally going home.

The Jenkins twins were among the 9.4 percent of Virginia children who are born prematurely each year, and the March of Dimes has a goal of lowering that number to 8.1 percent of births by 2020. The problem is especially pronounced in the black community, where 12.4 percent of births are prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy.

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According to the March of Dimes, premature birth can have long-term effects on the health of a child, and its effects can continue throughout an adult’s life by affecting a person’s education and ability to work.

The Institute of Medicine reported in 2007 that the societal cost of premature birth in the U.S. alone was a whopping $26.2 billion a year. That includes $16 billion in medical and health care costs for the babies, $1.9 billion in labor and delivery costs for the mothers, $1.1 billion in special education services and $5.7 billion in lost work and pay for people born prematurely.

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, a baby’s brain is still developing. In fact, at 32 weeks, the brain weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 39 to 40 weeks, so the organization suggests that healthy pregnancies be allowed to persist until at least 39 weeks. Children born earlier than that are more likely to have trouble in school, and many of those problems can be compounded through adulthood.

The Suffolk March of Dimes March for Babies will be held April 25 at Constant’s Wharf Park, and organizers kicked off the fundraising effort this week with a breakfast event at which the Jenkins twins were the stars of the show.

There is still plenty of time to join the effort, and the group could use your help. Organizers have set an ambitious fundraising goal of $74,800 this year, and teams are still being signed up.

To learn how you can join the effort, visit www.marchofdimes.com/Virginia. To quote the March of Dimes’ own slogan, you can help provide “a fighting chance for every baby.”