When Sara Walla went into labor six weeks shy of her due data, she feared the worst.
“When I checked into Sky Ridge at 2 a.m. on February 1, 2009, I was terrified of what would happen,” said the Highlands Ranch mother of two. “I knew it was too early to have my baby.”
Avery was in the neonatal intensive care unit for three weeks.
“She wasn't strong enough to nurse,” Walla said. “Her lungs were every underdeveloped.
“It really makes you think about what a miracle life is, and how easily something can go wrong.”
Walla's daughter Avery struggled with breathing problems for years, but now is a healthy 5-year-old.
Tamera Martin, who delivered her son 35 and a-half weeks into her pregnancy, was equally afraid. At 15, her son shows no evidence of his rough start.
“My baby is 6-foot, 4 and a-half now,” she said. “But he was a very sick baby.”
Those near tragedies changed both women's lives. Walla, who worked then for the Town of Parker's communication department, now is the communications director for March of Dimes Colorado. Her experience at Sky Ridge's NICU led her to that position, in which she helps to educate women about the advantages of full-term delivery.
Martin is the nurse manager at Sky Ridge Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit, and said her experience made her a more effective in her job.
“It gave me such a different bedside manner because I know what it's like,” she said.
One in 10 Colorado babies are born prematurely, and for every healthy Avery, there are many more who suffer chronic effects that can run the gamut from cognitive difficulties to vision and hearing problems.
At 10 a.m. April 26, the March of Dimes hosts the three-mile March for Babies walk at Denver's City Park. The event, sponsored by Sky Ridge among others, helps raise funds to support prenatal wellness programs, family support and advocacy for healthy babies.
Walla said March of Dimes has been working for years to reverse the once-common trend of early labor induction.
Brains and lung development accelerates in the last few weeks of gestation, and babies born early often cannot breathe independently and lack the coordination required to nurse.
In 2012, 326 of the 3,442 babies born in Douglas County were born prematurely. The approximate cost to treat those babies was $17.9 million, according to March of Dimes Colorado.
Sky Ridge's expansion is aimed at part in helping such babies. This summer the Lone Tree hospital will open its expanded NICU, which will grow from 13 beds to 28. The hospital now delivers about 3,000 babies annually. With the expansion, it will double that ability to 6,000.
To register for March for Babies, visit www.marchforbabies.org.