WalkAmerica kick-off rally held Tuesday at Spohn

Nicole D. Perez, Jim Wells County Correspondent

Deidra De Leon, a student of Alice High School, knows what it means to fear for a child's life.

Her younger brother was born prematurely and because of that experience, she is helping to organize this year's March of Dimes WalkAmerica event in Alice.

"A lot of people have been touched by premature birth," she said at a kick-off rally held at Christus Spohn Hospital-Alice Tuesday.

De Leon was among the speakers at the event, which also included welcoming remarks from hospital administrator Steven Daniel.

"This is an exciting time. Last year, the March of Dimes was one of the first events I got involved with when I came here and it was phenomenal. We raise over $37,000 last year," Daniel said. Daniel is this year's WalkAmerica chair, Margot Rios is the revenue chair and Tony and Nicole Morris are the publicity chairs.

This year's walk begins at 9 a.m. April 14 at Laviana Plaza.

"It's a great thing and it was a lot of fun," Daniel said of last year's event.

WalkAmerica was the first walking event in the nation. For 67 years, the March of Dimes has been on the cutting edge of research and programs to help save millions of babies from death and prematurity.

Last year's top teams included Dr. Nirupama Patel, Halliburton, the Morris Miracle Marchers, Christus Spohn Hospital-Alice, Wells Fargo, Christus Spohn Hospital-Kleberg, State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, Carlisle Insurance, All Star Rehabilitation, Inc. and Brite Star Cleaners.

More than 30 teams participated in last year's WalkAmerica and organizers hope more will participate this year in an effort to hit the $45,000 goal.

"We can be a part of birth defect prevention and supporting research to prevent prematurity," said Patel, who herself is a mother of a premature child.

Patel noted many of the accomplishments of the March of Dimes, including developing the polio vaccine, high-dose progesterone treatment to fight premature birth, newborn screening test for biotinidase deficiency - which can cause mental retardation and death unless treated promptly - and the use of surfactant to treat respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in premature babies.

But more work is needed in fighting premature birth, organizers said.

"Premature birth is the number one cause of newborn death," Daniel said. "It's reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. It's a growing concern - certainly in areas of the country where you have more young moms. We have a lot of challenges with premature birth."

Team captains collected supplies and made their pledges for the upcoming walk, and door prizes were awarded.

Debe Holt, community director for March of Dimes, thanked the captains for once again helping with the walk.

"It's about saving the most innocent of us all - premature babies," she said. "As this year's theme says, 'With Your Help, There's Hope.'"