"This walk will not end today, because it's a marathon," said Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger as he welcomed the crowd of supporters. Rediger later said he would like to see people gain more awareness of how important the March of Dimes is in funding life-saving research to prevent premature births.
"Today our focus is fighting the growing epidemic of preterm birth," said Debbie Kersting, the state director of the March of Dimes Missouri Chapter.
Premature birth is the leading cause of infant mortality.
Of the 81,000 births that take place within Missouri annually, one in eight are premature.
Nationally, the preterm birth rate has increased about 20 percent since 1990, according to a report issued in July 2006 by the Institute of Medicine.
April Bond, a mother of two, said research funded by the March of Dimes is what allowed her son, Drew, who was born prematurely at 32 weeks, to make a rapid transition from assisted to independent breathing.
"Drew is now 14 years old and weighs 140 pounds, and you could never tell he was a premature baby," she said.
"The March of Dimes is a great cause close to my heart," said Lacey Moss, a first-year walker who learned about the March of Dimes after her daughter was born prematurely at 33 weeks. "I'm here to help others who face similar difficulties."
Both Bond and Moss said the information March of Dimes provided to them was crucial as they coped with the challenges presented by having a premature baby.
"If there is a silver bullet to the epidemic of pre-term birth, it would be to stop smoking," Kersting said. "Take a multivitamin with folic acid in it," And expectant mothers should remember that "40 weeks is the optimal pregnancy length for ensuring the health of your baby," she said
The March of Dimes originated in 1938 as a fundraiser aimed at combating polio, a viral disease that caused thousands of deaths annually in the United States alone. In the 1950s the not-for-profit organization funded critical research that led to the creation of the Salk vaccine, a cure that has virtually eradicated polio.
The March of Dimes subsequently funded research that was instrumental in developing medical innovations like the PKU test used to help prevent some forms of mental retardation and the first successful bone marrow transplant, which was used to correct a birth defect.
Community support allowed the March of Dimes to raise more than $38,000 Saturday, exceeding its initial fundraising goals.
1887 County Road 435, Jackson, MO