November 15, 2005
Premature birth is the number one cause of newborn deaths in the United States. Tuesday, the March Of Dimes wanted to make sure people knew exactly how serious the problem is.
One in every eight babies is born too soon.
"The babies that are born premature have a much harder time catching up with their milestones and it is very difficult for them to breathe, and they are at much more at risk for infection," said Uva's neonatal intensive care unit coordinator, Ellen Tyler.
Premature Awareness Day, started by the March of Dimes, hopes to draw attention to the problem.
"[It is very important that] we can raise the awareness of the prematurity crisis of the United States. Almost half a million children are born too soon in the U.S. every year," said March of Dimes community director, Mary Knapp.
In half of those births the reason for prematurity is unknown.
Since 1981, there has been a 30 percent increase in the nation's prematurity rate. Hospitals like the University of Virginia feel it firsthand.
"We have 42 babies in our unit right now, which is capacity, so we are totally full," said Tyler.
To say thanks for their work, the March of Dimes presented UVa's neonatal intensive care unit with a quilt and framed quilt square - designed by kids in Harrisonburg.
"I think the quilt is absolutely lovely, it's beautiful," said Tyler.
But officials know their work is ongoing, aware that the problem takes a toll on many.
"The cost of prematurity, not just in terms of financial dollars, but in terms of the emotional stress it places on families, on businesses, on society as a whole also keeps increasing, so it's vitally important that we keep fighting the fight," said Knapp.
They're hoping the little ones will also do the same.
Experts say that one of the reasons for the increase in the number of premature births is due to the rise in invitro fertilization and multiple births.