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March of Dimes works to battle infant death, birth defects

The March of Dimes, founded in 1938, is the only organization that has been able to find a cure for the disease it set out to conquer, polio. 2005 marks the 67th anniversary of the organization and permits us to reflect on the tremendous successes of one of the largest grass roots, volunteer-led organizations.

When polio ravaged the nation in the '30s, '40s and '50s, the March of Dimes volunteers succeeded in raising the crucial funding needed for the Salk Vaccine. After achieving its original mission, the March of Dimes shifted its focus and expansive resources to the leading cause of infant death, birth defects.

Prematurity - a silent enemy

Every two minutes, a low birth weight baby is born in the United States. Most people don't realize what a serious and widespread problem premature birth is. Besides being the leading cause of neonatal death (within the first month of life), it can lead to serious lifelong health problems like mental retardation, blindness, chronic lung disease and cerebral palsy.

The March of Dimes is working to prevent birth defects and infant death by funding major medical research and community services, leading advocacy efforts and stressing the importance of prenatal care. As the nation's third-largest volunteer health agency, the March of Dimes puts more money into improving the health of babies and preventive care than any other independent nonprofit organization.

Past March of Dimes supporters have helped to make possible many advances: linking alcohol consumption to fetal alcohol syndrome, devising a blood test to screen newborns for PKU, providing leadership in the development of neonatal intensive care units like those at Gwinnett Medical Center and Emory Eastside Medical Center located here in Gwinnett County. Other organizational success include: developing surfactant which saves the lives of thousands of babies born with RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome), launching a nationwide Folic Acid educational campaign, pioneering fetal surgery and performing groundbreaking research in genetics and gene therapy.

Still, there is more that needs to be done. Every hour, a baby dies from one or more birth defects. Fortunately, the March of Dimes is working to find ways to treat many more birth defects and genetic diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis, Hemophilia, Sickle Cell Disease and certain types of cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

You can make a difference in the lives of Georgia's babies Oct. 2 at the fifth annual March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction at the Gwinnett Center. Join with co-presenting sponsors Gwinnett Medical Center and Scientific Atlanta while sampling signature cuisine from local restaurants that you know and love, including Flowery Branch Yacht Club, Grapes & Hops, Kurt's, Little Gardens, Loafing Leprechaun, Payne Corley House, Pittypat's Porch, Proof of the Pudding, Vines Botanical Gardens and The 1818 Club. The heart of the evening is the live auction. Restaurants and chefs donate unique and creative dining experiences auctioned to the highest bidder. Other auction items include two first-class Delta Air Lines tickets, a trip to Belize, a Cirrus airplane ride, shag lessons, a party for up to 100, a Chastain table for six, just to name a few. For sponsorship and ticket information, call the March of Dimes office at 678-546-0023 or visit at registereasy.org/MOD.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Lisa Tully of March of Dimes.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.