Hank, Hannah and Hayden Slater
By ANDY MCCAMMON
The Wabash Valley division of the March of Dimes will stage its annual WalkAmerica fundraiser Saturday, April 29, at Memorial Stadium at ISU.
The 2005 Wabash Valley WalkAmerica event involved almost 1,500 individual participants and 143 teams. The event-- a nine-mile jaunt through the Deming Park area of Terre Haute, though participants can opt for a shorter route-- earned recognition as one of the most effective WalkAmerica events in Indiana and raised more than $160,000, most of which was earmarked for research in the fight against premature birth.
Expectations are equally high this year, according to Nikki Simpson, senior director of the Wabash Valley division. True, March of Dimes volunteers have been canvassing the area for months, soliciting participation and support for this year's drive-- but it's never too late to get involved.
"We're winning in the fight against prematurity every day, but we have a long way to go," she said. "Every dollar helps us get there."
Simpson urged anyone interested in participating to contact her office as soon as possible. Her division is still accepting registrations for corporate teams, family teams and individuals.
While advance notice is helpful, Simpson said non-registered participants can come to the stadium the day of the event, make a donation and join in the festivities.
As a member of a family fundraising team, Clay County resident Amanda Slater has invested a great deal of effort in the 2006 drive. For Slater and her husband, Aaron, drumming up support for prematurity awareness is less a choice than an obligation.
"I've been there," she said. "I just don't want some other family to go through what we went through."
When Slater gave birth to premature triplets in March 2004, the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis was buzzing.
Hank, Hannah and Hayden Slater, born 11 weeks premature, were just three of 75 babies housed in the St. Vincent's NICU at the time. A delivery room in the hospital had been temporarily commandeered to accommodate the overflow, a testament to the severity of the prematurity problem in central Indiana.
According to Simpson, 13.1 percent of babies born in the Wabash Valley are pre-term (at 37 weeks or less), a figure somewhat higher than the national average.
"It's hard enough becoming a new parent to begin with, let alone with three premature babies," Slater said. "They're fighting for their lives, they're breathing on ventilators. The boys were so heavily sedated that sometimes they knew you were there, sometimes they didn't."
That experience is what motivates the Slaters to give of themselves to the WalkAmerica cause-- often to the point of exhaustion.
"To do what we do, I think you have to have a passion for it," she said. "And we do."
Simpson said volunteers like the Slaters are the key to the success of WalkAmerica initiatives across the country.
"These families are saying, 'We have our own personal story and we want to make a difference,'" Simpson said. "They're really moving some mountains for us."