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Marchers unite to raise funds for healthier babies
Participants in the March of Dimes annual March for Babies fundraising walk get warmed up with Jazzercise on Saturday morning before hitting the street of Gainesville at The Longstreet Clinic.

Emma Gilreath is a fighter.

She may seem like a typical 2-year-old, but this little girl has overcome many obstacles in her short life.

Although Emma's mother, Haley Gilreath, had a smooth pregnancy at first, at 29 weeks she was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, plus heart and kidney failure.

Emma was born 10 weeks early, weighing only 2 pounds, 9 ounces.

"Emma did so well and shocked the doctors by how quickly she grew," Haley Gilreath said. "She was able to come home a whole month earlier before they said she would be home."

In honor of Emma, Haley Gilreath was one of many supporters at Longstreet Clinic on Saturday morning ready to walk for the annual March of Dimes' March for Babies.

The March of Dimes seeks to improve babies' health by preventing premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality.

After having Emma, Gilreath did research about premature babies and stumbled upon the March of Dimes' website.

"I immediately signed up for a team, and I signed my husband up to walk with me, and I was like, ‘I want to do this!'" Gilreath said.

Gilreath said that she enjoys being able to tell other people about Emma's story and talk to other parents who have had similar experiences.

"When you are a first-time parent, and you have a child in the NICU, you don't know what to expect," Gilreath said. "You are thinking that this is going to affect them for the rest of their life and that your child is always going to be behind and always going to struggle. But when you meet someone who has been there and has a child that is doing so well, it is encouraging."

Kathryn Harper, the community director with the March of Dimes, said that Saturday's event marked the end of the organization's fundraising season.

"All company teams, family teams, and individual walkers raise money up until today, and today is a representation of how we have raised this money for the cause," Harper said. "Now we are going to walk for the cause and show our support."

About 500 to 600 people were expected Saturday, despite the threat of rain.

"People know that rain or shine we are here every year, so I think we will have some firm supporters," Harper said.

Harper said that despite the state of the economy, the community has shown a lot of support.

"We have had a lot of moral and financial support from this community, and I really think we will meet our goal today, which is a very big deal," Harper said.

The goal for Saturday was a little over $93,000.

Harper said that about 73 cents of every dollar raised goes toward funding research and community grants.

"Hospitals that need certain things for women's centers or NICUs can present an application to us, and we can provide those things for them," Harper said.

Harper believes that it is important to pay attention to the issue of premature birth throughout the entire year.

"Someday you will have a baby, your sister is going to have a baby, your mother had babies, and that affects you whether it is in a negative or a positive way," Harper said. "If you were born with no problems, that is great - that means that we are doing our job well."

Harper said that the March of Dimes fights year-round for those who suffer from the problems associated with premature births.

"Hopefully someday, no one will have these problems," Harper said.

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