Get involved to give babies chance

By Kiran Sood

Using a stocking cap and a candy bar, Scott Burnsmier, community director of the Central Illinois Division of the March of Dimes, demonstrated the approximate size of a premature baby. According to a March of Dimes brochure, prematurity is the leading cause of neo-natal death in America. The March of Dimes plans to increase awareness of this increasing problem during November, Prematurity Awareness Month.

Robert Winchester, the March of Dimes Division Board Chair, said in a press statement that the pre-term birth rate in Champaign County is 11 percent.

“November has been dedicated Prematurity Awareness Month to let people know that premature birth is a crisis in our country and to bring people together to help give all babies their nine months,” Winchester said. “Everyone can visit our Web site to find out what they can do to help give all babies their nine months during November, Prematurity Awareness Month and any time of the year.”

Burnsmier said that it is essential to make people aware of the seriousness of premature births, which has been on the rise by 29 percent.

“It can happen to any woman at any time, and it is our hope that we can help make the next generation as healthy as possible,” Burnsmier said.

Nov. 15 is Prematurity Awareness Day, and Burnsmier encourages students and community members to get involved. There will be a tour of the neo-natal center at Carle Foundation Hospital.

Burnsmier said that if the community and legislators work together, they could really make a difference and move forward to help accomplish the goals of the organization. He said that the rising cost of prenatal health care is one of the reasons health care for all Americans continues to soar.

“The cost of prematurity really adds up at more than $13.6 billion,” he said. “We need to focus on research, education and advocacy, and a major institute like the University of Illinois is a great place to do that.”

The United States ranks twenty-fourth in the world for pre-natal care, he said. Burnsmier warned that if we don’t take a handle of the issues now, it could become a major crisis.

“By 2010, we hope to reach our goal of reducing prematurity by 7 percent,” Burnsmier said. “Once we reach that landmark, we will continue to address issues affecting women and children across the country.”

He said students who are interested in raising money and awareness for the March of Dimes causes, including prematurity, can get involved with Collegiate Council, a registered student organization.

Greg Jereb, president of Collegiate Council and junior in LAS, said that it is always good to get people involved in any way possible. It is great to get awareness out, especially with the walk coming up.

“On a personal level, it is a great way to see how prematurity affects people,” Jereb said. “Some people don’t understand exactly what it entails. It is great financially and also on a personal level. It is amazing to see how this affects more and more people on so many levels.”

He said that students can form walk teams, and the upcoming walk is April 29.

“They can raise money and donate all that money to the March of Dimes,” Jereb said. “We have many events through the Collegiate Council.”

With the help of over 3 million volunteers, including youths, the March of Dimes has saved millions of babies over the past 62 years and looks forward to continue making a difference for years to come, he said.

“Getting involved with March of Dimes, whether it is our walk held every year in the spring, or taking part in the council, is an excellent way to make a difference,” Jereb said. “You can really change someone’s life.”

The March of Dimes is an organization that was established in 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt to save America’s youth from polio. Within 16 years, a vaccine was developed, and polio no longer plagued Americans.

Today, the mission of the March of Dimes is slightly different. According to their mission statement, the March of Dimes researchers, volunteers, educators, outreach workers and advocates all work together to give all infants a fighting chance against the threats to their health: prematurity, birth defects and low birth weight.