Amarillo’s March for Babies moves inside

Rain, sleet, and the threat of snow did not keep hundreds of people from gathering for the annual March for Babies in Amarillo.

But it did keep them from walking.

Instead, about 542 kids jumped around inside of AirU at Town Square Village while hundreds more visited vendor booths and donated money to the March of Dimes.

“When Carla called me and asked if they could possibly move inside, I said absolutely,” said AirU owner Jeb Harris.

Harris has been involved with March of Dimes since his son Hank was born prematurely, weighing just a pound and a half.

“It was super scary,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

Hank spent the first 94 days of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit. Now 11, Hank is an energetic soccer player and whose father wants to continue bringing awareness to March of Dimes.

“Our mission is to help babies be born on time and healthy,” said Carla O’Neal, senior development manager for March of Dimes.

For O’Neal, who has been involved with the organization for more than two decades since both of her children were born prematurely, working with the organization is incredibly personal.

According to the March of Dimes, one in 10 babies is born prematurely in Texas. The annual walk is to raise money and awareness. In 2015, the organization pledged $75 million for a campaign to end premature births.

“It’s for out-of-the-box thinking,” O’Neal said, “trying to find out what makes a woman go into labor; we don’t know why a woman goes into labor on normal time, much less when they’re premature.”

Work is being done at five prematurity research centers throughout the country, each studying the link between premature birth and a variable factor.

At Sanford University, they study the link between microbial communities and premature births; racial disparities are the focus at the Ohio Collaborative; Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., studies uterine pacemakers; the University of Pennsylvania has a focus on metabolic processes in the placenta.

“All of the money is put together to help research and that helps babies here in Amarillo,” O’Neal said.

Last year, the group raised $215,000 at the March for Babies walk and this year they hoped to surpass that goal by $85,000.

March of Dimes in Amarillo serves not only Amarillo but the surrounding counties of the Texas Panhandle. The money that stays local goes toward outreach programs such as “Go Before You Show,” which encourages early prenatal care and bringing awareness to United Way’s 2-1-1 phone number, which offers free information and referrals.

“We don’t just affect babies that were born early or born with a problem; every baby born is affected by March of Dimes through newborn screenings … that’s something March of Dimes advocated for … every baby is screened for 31 diseases and if it’s caught at that early stage right after birth, the process can be slowed down or even reversed,” O’Neal said.

The group has also been responsible for touting the importance of folic acid for women in their childbearing years.

“March of Dimes has had a huge hand in getting that information out to people,” O’Neal said. “We’ve advocated … and now the nation’s grain supply is fortified with folic acid. Just this last year, we got it put into corn mesa … and vitamins are fortified with folic acid.”