March of Dimes celebrates eight decades of supporting moms and their babies with a special brunch this month.
After Richard and Shannon Edie’s fraternal twins, Dylan and Savannah, were born two months early by emergency C-section, there was a lot of nervous energy in the air. The couple had lost their twin girls a year prior, so the entire journey was “a rough road to our babies,” according to Shannon.
“I feel like I blocked out a lot of that time in our lives; it was really stressful for us, certainly the pregnancy,” she says.
Dylan and Savannah spent six weeks at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children’s neonatal intensive care unit, and during their stay, the expert hands in the department helped put the twins on a path to success. The time spent was also beneficial for Richard and Shannon, who appreciated the hands-on assistance from staff (even when it came to teaching basic parenting skills like how to do a swaddle) as well as the helpful guidance from March of Dimes, which addressed questions and concerns while providing resources for parents with children in the NICU. Despite the harrowing circumstances, the Edies couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
“When I think about our time in the NICU, I have only positive memories, and part of that was the support the staff and March of Dimes provided,” she says.
“Dr. (Angela) Pratt and the staff at Kapi‘olani and March of Dimes, we believe were an integral part of our story, which is still being written,” Shannon adds.
Now almost 4 years old, Dylan and Savannah are happy, healthy and enjoying life with their parents, family and friends.
“They have done amazing,” shares Shannon. “You would never know they were premature, and only 2 and 3 pounds when they were born.”
The story of the Edies is one of many happening in Hawai‘i and around the world. Globally, 15 million babies are born prematurely, and March of Dimes is there to fund research, education, advocacy and community programs to help expecting moms have full-term, healthy pregnancies. And if anyone can put an end to premature births, it’s March of Dimes, which had to shift its mission away from curing polio after helping to eradicate the disease. Research, funded in part by grants from the then-March of Dimes (formerly known as National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis), enabled the creation of an effective vaccine in 1955. By 1979, the same year March of Dimes donned its new moniker, the U.S. was polio-free. This enabled March of Dimes to focus on its current mission of improving birth outcomes.
With a new team in place locally — led by executive director for the Hawai‘i market Candice Fajardo — the nonprofit organization is ready to hone in on rebuilding and rebranding.
“We want to create an impact with our mission, being able to look at all lenses of pregnancy for healthy moms and babies,” Fajardo explains. “Education is really important to us, and we want to be more transformational than transactional.”
Already, the local team has jumped into action, collecting supplies for military families affected by the contaminated water at the Red Hill underground storage facility at Pearl Harbor. It’s also partnered with Hui Mālama Ola Nā ‘Ōiwi on the Big Island to provide fresh produce and prenatal kits for pregnant families. Fajardo also has plans to use a mobile van to bring health care to pregnant mothers in communities around the state, and her team is working on getting a full-time NICU family support program up and running — and not just at Kapi‘olani, but at hospitals around the state, too.
“Once a baby is born premature, the families are in the NICU from a week to months, and providing a family support coordinator goes a long way,” notes Fajardo. “When we hear stories from families like the Edies, who say that if it wasn’t for March of Dimes offering these services, it would have been such a dark time in their lives.”
The organization continues to be proactive about prenatal education, and that begins by helping mothers to understand proper nutrition and why making healthy choices matter.
“Our whole future starts with moms and babies, and a lot of it starts before you even think of conceiving,” explains Howard Lee, March of Dimes board chair, and president and CEO of UHA Health Insurance.
Education, though, extends far beyond just the mother, and March of Dimes is actively working to partner with organizations that will holistically perpetuate its mission of “healthy moms, strong babies.” One of its newest board members, for example, is U.S. Renal Care, which is helping the organization to educate mothers about diabetes and hypertension. Lee, for his part, looks at it with a different lens and puts an emphasis on educating employers because “the majority of birthing parents will probably be working,” he shares.
There’s no doubt that the March of Dimes team has its boots on the ground in Hawai‘i, but it’s also doing its part to aid in funding innovation on a large scale.
“There’s this amazing national research arm,” Lee says. “They take different disciplines in medicine to figure out what causes a mom to deliver prematurely. We can speculate age, ethnicity or multiple births, but it’s not conclusive.”
The research, though, is coming along nicely, and they’re getting closer to understanding precisely why a mother might deliver earlier than normal.
“I’m crossing my fingers for the day we can discover that and cure premature birth,” Lee adds.
MARCH FOR MOMS, BABIES, HOPE
March of Dimes, Hawai‘i Chapter is continuously working to educate, empower and support moms, and one way the community can help is by taking part in its March of Hope: A Brunch to Honor Moms on March 27 at Alohilani Resort Waikīkī Beach.
The fundraising event will recognize Dr. Angela Pratt, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children (the first Native Hawaiian and first female to hold the position), as well as the late Martha Smith, the former CEO of Kapi‘olani Medical Center and executive vice president of O‘ahu operations for Hawai‘i Pacific Health, for their efforts in supporting moms and babies.
“This was Martha Smith’s dream to build the Diamond Head Tower (where the NICU is located at Kapi‘olani), so that these babies could be cared for in the best possible environment,” explains Pratt. “When I first met Martha decades ago, we often dreamed of this and what we could do to make this happen. Martha was a visionary, a woman of action, an exemplary leader who brought dreams to reality.”
For Pratt, the story of the Diamond Head Tower has come full circle, as her journey with the hospital started before she was even born. Pratt’s mother was admitted to Kapi‘olani after sustaining injuries during a motor vehicle accident. After emergency surgery, Pratt’s mom was admitted for preterm labor.
“In those times, a 24-week fetus would never survive if born,” Pratt explains. “Luckily, both of us survived and she carried me to full term where I was born at Kapi‘olani Center for Women & Children in excellent health. I am so proud to have been delivered at Kapi‘olani.”
During March of Hope, guests can also expect a fashion show featuring moms and babies, entertainment by Anuhea and Ginny Tiu, and delicious food from award-winning Alohilani Resort Waikīkī Beach.
For co-chair Ellie Ventula-Honda, March of Dimes is an organization close to her heart. Born premature at just under 5 pounds at St. Francis Hospital, Ventula-Honda now is an advocate for education and support for moms and babies in Hawai‘i and beyond. She and fellow co-chair Kelly Sanders, executive vice president of operations at Highgate, look forward to having each guest better understand the mission of March of Dimes and how it benefits not only moms and babies, but the community at large. Their hope is that each guest “leaves the event knowing that their continued support will help to make an impact in funding education and resources for improving quality prenatal care for moms and babies.”
And its newly imagined brunch isn’t all the organization has planned this spring. On April 23, March of Dimes presents its flagship fundraiser, the 52nd annual March for Babies: A Mother of a Movement, at Kapi‘olani Park.
To register for either event, visit marchofdimes.org/events and enter “Honolulu” in the city location box.
— Nicole Monton