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March of Dimes walkers rally to support life’s smallest fighters
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Lindsey DeVerter, center, a sixth-grader at North Hall Middle, helps inflate balloons at a stand for her school's FBLA organization, where she is a member, before the start of the March of Dimes March for Babies event in Gainesville, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

The temperature hovered just above 50 degrees and the rising sun shined on families gathered Saturday, April 21, behind The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville. More than 500 people were there, dressed in purple and white, preparing for a walk that means so much to so many: The March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies.

Before the march started, the organization that helps fund research and offers support to mothers who give birth to premature babies had raised more than $60,000.

“We want to make sure that all of these babies — the moms and the babies — have a chance to have a healthy life,” said Pam Patterson, chairwoman of the area’s march. “And all the money that comes in is to do more research. They’re doing all that they can to make sure that these babies survive and have the best life that they can.”

Many of the families at the event had experienced the effects of premature birth. Whether it was the mother who gave birth, the father who helped her through it or any other family members or friends as a source of support, everyone was there to show their love for each other and help the March of Dimes.

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Julia Hanner, 7, gets her face painted before the start of the March of Dimes March for Babies event in Gainesville, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. - photo by David Barnes
Jessica Rivera was there with her mother, Zeni Rivera. Fifteen years ago, when Jessica gave birth to her own daughter, Jennisa, at 26 weeks, Zeni was there to help her every step of the way.  Jessica, too, was born prematurely, weighing only about 3 pounds.

“We’ve always been pretty close, but I think she was able to help me when that situation happened because it happened so suddenly,” said Jessica Rivera, who lives in Gainesville and works at Mansfield Oil Co.

Her mother led her through the process, reminding her technology had advanced further than it had when she was born. She reminded her not to panic and told her to try and treat her daughter as she would any other baby.

“When they’re small like that, you don’t know how to handle a baby,” said Zeni Rivera, who works at Longstreet Clinic Pediatrics in Gainesville. “Sometimes you have to be careful, but also just take it day-by-day. Some babies now, even though they’re born with less weight, they’re strong and healthy.”

And that’s how they described Jennisa, now a ninth-grader at Gainesville High on the varsity competition and football cheer teams and an honor roll student.

Nora Severns, a registered nurse with the neonatal intensive care unit at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, said the March for Babies is a “celebration of life” for children like Jennisa Rivera, her mother and grandmother. But it’s also a time to remember the premature babies that never made it home.

March of Dimes did that with a tree and cutouts of butterflies at this year’s march. Families had the opportunity to write the name of a baby on a butterfly and attach it to the tree to remember their child.

“Not every baby who is born early survives,” Severns said. “And when you have an organization like March of Dimes behind you funding the research, and even just raising awareness, those families who lost a baby aren’t alone. Because they know somebody is still fighting and somebody is still trying.”

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