Marie Moynihan of Nanuet first got involved with the March of Dimes shortly after the premature birth of her son, James Hecker.
James was born only 24 weeks into her pregnancy. He weighed one pound, nine ounces and was only 12 inches long. He spent four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Westchester Medical Center, surviving a brain bleed, bilateral hernia surgery heart surgery and respiratory problems.
"He needed Surfactant Therapy to mature his lungs," Moynihan said. "If it wasn't for the work done of may years by the March of Dimes, that research and therapy wouldn't be here. Without that, these babies ahve a very slim chance of surviving. He was so tiny when he was born. He wouldn't have made it. He wouldn't be here with us today."
James Hecker battled health problems for years, but his mother says at age nine you would never know he was born prematurely upon meeting him. Last year at the Rockland County March for Babies, he posed with a picture of himself as a newborn (see photo attached to this report).
This year, he and his mother will again take part in the Rockland County March of Dimes March For Babies Sunday at Blue Hill Plaza in Pearl River. Registration begins at 9 a.m., with the walk starting at 10. Moynihan got involved shortly after her son's birth, helping to raise funds and awareness with the goal of improving the health of newborn babies.
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"At that time, the Rockland chapter of the March of Dimes wasn't really that big," Moynihan said. "I remember that first walk, there were maybe a couple of hundred people. Over the years, to see it grow has been fabulous. It went from a smalle rwalk to one of the major walks in Rockland County."
The walk is expected to draw over 800 participants, as it did last year. Moynihan has been on the walk committee in the past and still gives speeches for the March of Dimes. She said she and James will be there Sunday despite the passing of her father, Christopher Minehan, Monday. The family is asking that rather than send flowers, donations be made to the in his name to the March of Dimes (www.marchofdimes.com).
"My parents have been big advocates," Moynihan said. "The family all walks with us. It is very important. It is something they would have wanted us to do."
Moynihan said she first heard from Sharon Masciovecchio a Development Director for the March of Dimes and one of the walk's organizers, shortly after James's birth.
"She knew about James from the doctors at Westchester Medical," Moynihan said. "The doctors there gave them our name to speak to us and get the word out locally."
One thing Moynihan tries to get across when she speaks on behalf of the March of Dimes is that even a small donation can help in the research the organization does for premature babies. She talked about the efforts that go beyond research as well.
"Even in this day and age, a lot of times you can't pinpoint the reasons or see the signs of premature birth," Moynihan said. "A lot of research goes into educating doctors to see the signs of premature birth.
"A lot of people think of high-risk pregnancies (leading to premature birth). Anyone over 40 is considered high risk, but I was in my mid-30s. There was no reason to believe anything could go wrong with the pregnancy. I had had a child who was the complete opposite of James. She was nine pounds, 11 ounces. I went to extremes."
According to the March of Dimes, in an average week in New York, 578 babies are born preterm (less than 37 weeks of pregnancy completed), 97 of them very preterm (less than 32 weeks). There are 394 babies born with a low birth weight, less than 5 1/2 pounds, 71 of them very low birth weight, which is less than 3 1/3 pounds.
Preterm birth is the most consistent risk factor, but infection, hypertension, late or no prenatal care, smoking and the use of alcohol or illegal drugs are also risk factors.
In Moynihan's case, it was an infection. She said wall was fine until she started having some minor bleeding about 21 weeks in. The doctors told her not to worry, that it happens sometimes and she should take it easy.
"The next time back, I was bleeding much heavier," Moynihan said. "They still really weren't that concerned about it. I hadn't been feeling well. They brought me in to do tests, but everything was negative. The doctors didn't catch it. When somebody healthy comes in, it's kind of routine. I wasn't high risk. I didn't have a family history of it.
"Premature births, you can never tell. It can happen to any pregnant woman out there. You could have an infection in your tooth and not even realize it is there, but you are at risk."
Then she saw a specialist at Wextchester Medical Center who realized something was wrong and put her in the hospital. Her son was born a day or two later. She had an infection which had spread into the amniotic fluid, the liquid that surrounds the baby during pregancy.
"The infection went into the blood," Moynihan said. "Even after the birth, I ended up in the ICU for three days.
"When he was born, they told us his chances of surviving were slim to none and even if he does pull through, he could have severe disabilities," Moynihan said. "That was scary. But if you saw him now, you would not believe he was a premature child."
His lungs needed help developing. He needed surgery to close a valve in his heart, which normally closes on its own in a full-term birth. Moynihan said he had between 10 and 15 blood transfusions and after four months in the hospital, he was on oxygen and a monitor for his first six months at home.
James suffered from siezures for years, which can be a problem between ages two and five due to late development of the child's immune system.
"His immune system was slow starting," Moynihan said. "He would have a fever and it would go from 98.6 to 106 in 15 minutes because his body was not able to produce cells to keep it down. The seizures were like a lightning storm in his brain and it would effect the part of the brain that controls breathing."
She said one of the worst happened while the family was on the way home from a trip to the beach on the Garden State Parkway.
"People were jumping out of cars to help us," Moynihan said. "Then the ambulance came. We really thought we lost him right there. It was a little ear infection. The last time it happened, he was probably four and a half.
"Unfortunately, a lot of kids don't come out like James did. We were lucky with James, but not a lot of families are as lucky. With more funds and research, there is more of a chance that more babies are born healthy, or at least able to have a fighting chance with the new therapies coming out."
Moynihan stressed repeatedly the importance of looking for signs of premature birth, for anything out of the ordinary.
"Premature birth does not recognize color, race or religion," Moynihan said. "It can happen to any pregnant woman. With the economy the way it is, women may take things for granted and not go to doctors the way they should. That's where education comes in, to make sure they do the right thing. There are so many different reasons for premature birth. It is so widespread. It is so important to pay attention to your body, to ask those questions."