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March for Babies benefits local children, funds research

March of Dimes Chair Yvonne Shoemaker of Stephens City, left, and this year's Piedmont-Shenandoah Valley Division March of Dimes ambassador family, Rebecca Wood of Linden, play with Wood's daughter, Charlie. Wood and Charlie will lead the May 31 March for Babies in Winchester. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

Charlie Wood, 21 months, laughs at her mother, Rebecca Wood. Charlie benefited from medical treatment funded by March of Dimes after she was born prematurely. This year Wood family is the Piedmont-Shenandoah Valley Division March of Dimes ambassador family. Katie Demeria/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER -- Rebecca Wood of Linden said she walks because someone once walked for her daughter.

Wood's family is this year's Piedmont-Shenandoah Valley Division March of Dimes ambassador family. She and her 21-month-old daughter Charlie will lead this year's annual March of Babies in Winchester on May 31.

Charlie was born at 26 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces. Her lungs were underdeveloped, Wood said. Charlie did not have pulmonary surfactants so she had to undergo surfactant therapy.

"March of Dimes funded the research to develop that," Wood said. "She wouldn't have survived without it."

This year's March for Babies, the organization's premier event, according to Chairwoman Yvonne Shoemaker, will take place on May 31 on the Winchester Medical Center campus.

In the past, the Northern Shenandoah Valley has supported two smaller March for Babies, one in Front Royal and the other in Winchester. This year, though, one larger event will take place in Winchester with a goal set at $125,000.

Though March of Dimes is a national event, 84 percent of the funds raised with March for Babies will stay in Virginia, unlike most other states, according to Community Director Lynn Downs.

"I think that March of Dimes is the organization that works very quietly but successfully helping us have healthy babies," Shoemaker said. "In the community we work very quietly, if you think about it, but we work very hard to achieve that mission that all babies can be born healthy."

Like Wood, Shoemaker also became involved with March of Dimes because a premature baby entered her life -- two of her grandchildren were born prematurely.

The money raised through March for Babies goes to help those in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units by offering support to families or funding the research that may save their children's lives, Shoemaker said.

"It's for research and education as well as support for moms, dads, families, grandmas like me, so that if something does occur and perhaps the baby is not born what we deem as healthy, there's help out there throughout the baby's life," she said.

For Wood, every little donation counts. While in the NICU with Charlie after she was born, Wood said she was given a baby book produced by the March of Dimes that included NICU baby milestones. She said it was a huge help, and cost only a little over $1 to make.

"Because who knows about premies until you have one?" she asked.

Shoemaker pointed out that, along with the March of Dimes funded research into surfactant therapy that benefited Charlie, the organization is also responsible for funding research for the polio vaccine, which has touched thousands of lives.

Downs said the organization is quiet about its impact because it has been around since 1938, and does not require a big marketing campaign -- it just wants to help babies.

"We're quiet because we fund research for healthy babies and people don't know we're here until they're in the NICU," Downs said. "But people should know we're here."

The point of the ambassador, Downs said, is to make the numbers a reality. Many people know about premature babies and their difficulties, but Wood is meant to put a face on that issue.

"We walk because somebody once walked so she could survive, so we walk so other babies can survive," Wood said.

Those interested in signing up for March for Babies can visit www.marchforbabies.org. In order to donate, or to set up a change box in a business, email Downs at ldowns@marchofdimes.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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