Panama City - Originally formed to fight polio, the March of Dimes is now on a mission to save babies by working to prevent birth defects and premature birth. Nationwide 1 in 8 babies is born premature, putting those children at risk for for severe health problems. While proper pre-natal care can help prevent prematurity, sometimes it's unavoidable. One local family is now serving as March of Dimes ambassadors after their son was born three months early.
Seven-year-old Joe is a thriving first grader, but the little boy's life had a scary start. His mom, Glenda Watson, was shocked to learn she was pregnant, at age 47. "I often say God has a sense of humor. But the pregnancy was going along just fine until I reached 22 weeks, then I woke one morning and realized Joe was ready to come," said Watson.
After about a month of bed rest, little Joe was born at 24 weeks. He weighed less than 2 pounds. "I don't know if you can imagine being afraid of and for your baby at the same time but that is what it is like when they are in the neonatal intensive care unit. You are afraid to touch them, you are afraid you are going to hurt them no matter what you do."
Joe spent 3 months in the neonatal intensive care unit of Sacred Heart in Pensacola. Like many premature babies, his lungs had not fully developed. Watson credits the March of Dimes for funding research that led to the drugs that she says saved Joe's life. "He got a drug which helped his lungs develop. We started doing that drug while he was still inside of me and we also got it after he was delivered. If it had not been for those drugs, Joe never would have survived," said Watson.
Now Joe is happy, healthy, and loves school. "We feel very blessed today. He is a strong, healthy, very smart little boy," said Watson.
March of Dimes volunteers are holding a fundraiser Saturday. It's called "Breakfast for Babies." It runs from 7 to 9:30 at Smitty's Barbeque on Highway 231. You can purchase tickets at the door for $5.