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March for Babies event to be held Saturday

POSTED: April 19, 2013 12:33 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Chris and Melissa Hester play with their daughter Lily Ann on Thursday in the playground at Challenged Child and Friends. The Hester family is the March of Babies Ambassador Family for this year's walk.

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Lily Ann Hester spent 98 days in the hospital’s newborn intensive care unit after being born two months early with a congenital heart defect.

During that time, the Hester family became familiar with their daughter’s nurses and doctors and the work of The March of Dimes.

The Hesters are Hall County’s March of Dimes Ambassador Family this year at the organization’s annual March for Babies fundraiser happening at Longwood Park at Wilshire Trails in Gainesville on Saturday morning,

“We’ve just been so blessed by all the research and medicine and technology that they have today,” said Melissa Hester, Lily’s mother and an art teacher at White Sulfur Elementary School. “And a lot of that is because of the March of Dimes. So we’re just happy to be able to all get together and give back and try to help other families so they don’t have to go through all that we’ve been through.”

Registration for the 3-mile walk begins at 9 a.m. The walk starts at 10 a.m.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

According to the March of Dimes, premature birth is the most urgent infant health problem in the country today. In Georgia there are more than 19,000 babies born prematurely each year.

In November, the organization released its annual Premature Birth Report Card, giving the nation a “C” grade and Georgia a “D.”

The event aims to raise $108,000.

Leigh Tenewitz, director of communications of the Georgia chapter, said the organization helps some 4 million babies each year through research, education, vaccines and breakthroughs.

“Without the organization, our overall health as a country would be severely diminished,” Tenewitz said. “So we walk to ensure that we can continue providing the support that is necessary to ensure that all babies are born healthy.”

Now, Lily Ann is 18 months old and starting to catch up to her peers developmentally.

Hester jokingly said Lily Ann is using the same strong will that helped her survive her first few months of life to give her parents a hard time.

Melissa Hester said she’s forever grateful to the doctors and nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit who helped her daughter overcome the odds.

She said she’s excited about the event not just because it’s a chance to celebrate the people who helped her family but because it gives her a chance to encourage others.

Hester said the time a child spends in the NICU can be lonely and frustrating for parents.

She said she hopes to be able to help others who are going through what she and her family went through.

“We were lucky because she’s been a real success story,” Hester said. “She’s had a rough 18 months with ups and downs, and there were a lot of times the doctors really couldn’t tell us if she was going to be OK. We just had to watch and see.”


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