The March of Dimes works to improve the health of moms and babies
On a mission – one baby at a time
In many ways, it had been a textbook-perfect pregnancy. With 12 weeks to go, Jill Teeters and her husband, David Lamothe, were immersed in their daily activities, excitedly anticipating their baby’s birth.
But in October 2007, Jill started not feeling well. Within 24 hours, Teeters’ water broke and the Manchester couple’s son Aidan was born at 28 weeks, 5 days.
Weighing in at just 3 pounds, Aidan was in far better shape than many babies born so early. “He came out kicking and screaming,” Teeters said. “He was actually big for his gestation.”
While he was still tiny enough that Lamothe’s wedding ring fit his son’s wrist as a bracelet, Aidan’s Apgar score was a nine and he suffered no long-term effects of his early birth. The family considers itself lucky in spite of a tough beginning.
Aidan spent seven weeks in NICU at Elliot Hospital in Manchester. Teeters and Lamothe were grateful to have such incredible care for their son so close by.
Teeters said, “Every moment a baby can stay in the womb is important.” But because their son wasn’t able to stay longer, NICU did its best to replicate that quiet world.
“Those seven weeks were a roller coaster,” Teeters said. “Aidan was in his own little dimly lit room, because he was so little, like in utero but in an Isolette.”
The new mom would spend her days at the hospital, go home briefly to meet up with her husband after he got out of work, and together they’d go back to the NICU. Throughout those weeks, Aidan became bigger, stronger and finally on day 49, at just over seven pounds, they were able to bring their son home.
Beyond the dedicated health care staff, the family benefited from interaction with the March of Dimes (MoD), which partners with Elliot and the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD) as well. It’s a connection they’ve never forgotten and in the years since Aidan’s birth, the family has maintained a close relationship through the local chapter of the organization. That relationship continues to enrich their lives and benefits the nonprofit in many ways.
Although they had been familiar with the March of Dimes’ initial mission related to polio, the experience with Aidan fully immersed Lamothe and Teeters in what the nonprofit was about.
Teeters became a board member, and served for the past six years on the board for the Boston/Manchester market. She was the community director for the New Hampshire chapter of MoD, and in 2014, the family was chosen as the National Ambassador Family for the nonprofit in support of Aidan’s role as the National Ambassador.
Together, they traveled the country, visiting corporate sponsors and public officials, reaching out to the public and encouraging everyone to participate in MoD’s primary fundraiser, March for Babies.
That event, the March for Babies, has become an integral part of the family’s life. They started Team Aidan in 2008, raising $800 for the March of Dimes that year and marching every year since. To date, Team Aidan has raised more than $120,000 and grown to include family, friends, colleagues and others who marvel at Aidan’s story and want to support the mission of healthy moms and babies.
Sarah Littlefield of Manchester was working with Teeters at Southern New Hampshire University at the time of Aidan’s birth. “I didn’t have children at the time and witnessed her struggle from a distance, but that didn’t minimize it in my mind,’ she said. “As time passed, Jill and I worked more closely together at SNHU and became friends. Jill’s experience with the March of Dimes became more and more personal for me.”
As Teeters became involved with the March of Dimes, Littlefield wanted to support the organization that impacted Teeters and her family so greatly. She began donating money and participating in the March for Babies, along with the nonprofit’s Signature Chef’s Auction and other activities when she could.
She would in time have two sons. The oldest, Jacob, became friends with Aidan and they attended daycare and preschool together. “Jason has also participated in some of the March for Babies, raising money at school and walking with Aidan,” she said.
Aidan, of course, is a predominant part of the team. “His premature birth story is part of who he is,” Teeters said. Just 11 years old, he already has the poise and maturity to share his story— such as at a recent presentation at a LaBelle Winery event, and at other public activities. From toddlerhood, his mother recalls, Aidan would have a big smile on his face and thank people for helping the babies. This year, he hopes to raise $11,000, and at $10,000 currently, he’s well on his way toward his goal.
More to be done
The family’s experiences with the March of Dimes — benefiting from their mission and services as well as their work in supporting them — has allowed their family to connect with others in the area and beyond, Teeters said.“To have others to talk to, to see how others are dealing with obstacles,” she said. “The families are amazing, as are the staff here in New Hampshire.”
She gives major kudos to Michelle O’Malley, who leads the New Hampshire development team. “In the five years Michelle has been in New Hampshire, the connections she’s made and the relationships she’s forged have been incredible,” Teeters said.
Yet there’s still much to be done.
According to O’Malley, there are more than 12,400 babies born each year in New Hampshire and the work of the March of Dimes touches each one of them, whether they’re born healthy, prematurely, with a birth defect or other health complication.
She shared these New Hampshire statistics:
• Over 1,000 babies are born preterm (less than 37 weeks’ gestation)
• 377 babies are born with a birth defect
• 69 babies die before reaching their first birthday
• Prematurity and birth defects are the leading causes of infant mortality
While many are acquainted with the March of Dimes, many don’t know much about its mission until they are in need of information or services.
“I feel there are pockets of people familiar with the March of Dimes in New Hampshire, and those numbers are growing thanks to the amazing volunteers we have on the ground,” O’Malley said. “Most people affiliate the March of Dimes with polio because President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded what is now the March of Dimes in 1938 — because he wanted to eradicate polio, which he suffered from.”
Its modern focus is in leading the fight for the health of all moms and babies, through advocacy, education and research. “March of Dimes is empowering families with programs, knowledge and tools to have healthier pregnancies,” O’Malley said.
Funding for those programs is important, especially in terms of supporting research to ensure all babies are born healthy. In the case of Teeters, there had been nothing to indicate — beyond being what was considered an advanced pregnancy age at 37 — a potential preterm birth. “About 40 percent of babies are born preterm with no explanation,” she said. “We walk to support important research of causes of preterm births.”
New Hampshire fundraisers
There are just two fundraising events in New Hampshire: We March for Babies in the spring and the Signature Chefs Auction, which will be held October 23, 2018 at the Manchester Country Club. Through the walk, $200,000 was raised and the goal for the fall event is $100,000.
Those funds enable the March of Dimes to:
• Support research toward solutions that ensure every baby is born healthy.
• Advocate for policies that prioritize the health of moms and babies.
• Provide resources and programs to help moms before, during and after pregnancy.
• Educate medical professionals on known solutions to improve the care that moms and babies receive.
• Unite local communities across the nation through events and collaboratives.
• Partner with organizations and companies committed to helping moms and their families
In New Hampshire, MoD funds or supports:
• NICU Family Support Specialist at CHaD in Lebanon
• NICU Co-Branded Materials at Elliot Hospital in Manchester
• Newborn Screening for every baby (27 of the 34 conditions on the federal Recommended Uniform Screening Panel (RUSP) are universally required by law or rule and fully implemented in New Hampshire. Newborn screening tests newborns for certain genetic, metabolic, hormonal and functional conditions that are not otherwise apparent at birth. If diagnosed early, many of these conditions can be successfully managed
• Research and community grants providing better quality of care for substance-exposed newborns
Volunteers are an important component of the fundraising equation. People don’t always know that they possess skills and talents that can make a difference. Littlefield is a good example of how someone can contribute the skills they use regularly in their work to benefit the nonprofit.
“In 2016 and 2017, I served on the leadership team for the Signature Chefs Auction as the culinary chair. My role was to find restaurants and chefs for the event and coordinate with them for participating in the events,” she said. “This was a great way for me to get more involved and utilize my skills and experience as a project manager to give back to the March of Dimes and my community.”
For more information on the March of Dimes, go to www.marchofdimes.org.
Pamme Boutselis is a writer, editor and higher-ed content director. Follow her on Twitter at pammeb or at www.pammeboutselis.com.