Walking to save premature babies

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

Tracy Balovich recently got a new job giving tours at the Alaskan Brewing Co. But she's hoping to get somebody to fill in for her Saturday so she can be part of a fund-raising walk.

"If I can swing it, I am going to do it," Balovich said. "My kids are the ambassador family for the March of Dimes for Juneau."

Balovich's kids are 2 1/2-year-old twins Devyn and Christopher Isaak. They were "33-weekers" - born seven weeks premature - and needed intensive care at the neonatal unit at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

The three and a half weeks of care cost $250,000. "Without the March of Dimes, those kids would not be here right now," Balovich said.

When the twins were born, their lungs were too immature to breathe on their own. They also suffered from apnea, meaning they suddenly stopped breathing.

"We would be driving down Egan and Christopher would stop breathing, and I would have to put my finger in his mouth or something to get him going again," Balovich said.

When the twins left the neonatal unit they wore monitors to keep track of respiration and heart rates. They have since graduated from monitors and are doing just fine.

"They are normal, screaming, running brats now," said Balovich. "That's why we like the March of Dimes."

By lacing on their walking shoes and taking a stroll Saturday, Juneau residents can contribute to raising funds for kids such as Devyn and Christopher.

The annual WalkAmerica helps to raise funds that support the March of Dimes' research and programs that help prevent birth defects, correct birth defects such as cleft palate, and give babies born prematurely a fighting chance at life. In 2000, 74 Juneau walkers completed the six-mile route.

Sponsors are asked to contribute up to $75 per walker. And walkers are asked to take the Year 2002 Challenge, meaning they raise $200 or more. The top local walker in each community will receive two round-trip tickets to any Alaska Airlines destination in the U.S. (A minimum of $1,000 must be raised to be eligible.) Other prizes include sweatshirts and gift certificates to Big Kmart.

"This year for the first time we are going to do a kids' walk that cuts off at Steven Richards, making it about half the length of the full walk," said Julie Wyatt, Juneau WalkAmerica coordinator.

Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Mendenhall Mall. The official starting time is 10:30. More than 100 residents are expected to walk with company teams or as individuals.

From 1-4 p.m., the Moose Lodge will hold a mini-carnival to benefit March of Dimes. A jumping booth, face painting and clowns are among the attractions.

"Last year we raised $16,000 and would like to beat that," Wyatt said. Much of the money raised goes to Providence's neonatal unit, but some also provides grants to Bush communities to educate about the importance of folic acid intake for women planning to be pregnant. Folic acid helps to prevent spina bifida, a birth defect that can result in paralysis.

Other funds support education about maternal smoking during pregnancy. Smoking can produce low-birthweight babies, who are at greater risk of death after delivery. Funds raised in Juneau also pay for Baby Think It Over dolls used in high school health classes to show students how normal and substance-affected babies act.

WalkAmerica's Honorary Chairman Tom Posey, president of AT&T Alascom, will join the walk. For details, call Kayce Arthun, (800) 478-5245 or call Wyatt at her home, 789-7979.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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