By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
The March for Babies will take place Sunday morning at Shuttleworth Park in Amsterdam as part of the March of Dimes' nationwide fundraiser, which doubles this year to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
The walk will start at 10 a.m. Anyone who wants to participate can sign up during registration at 9 a.m.
"It's a big year for us," said Joslyn McArdle, the community services director of the Northeastern New York branch in Albany. "We have six walks scheduled in the Capital Region, and all of the proceeds will go toward developing vaccines and cures, and researching why mothers go into labor prematurely."
Pre-term babies are born at a higher rate in the U.S. than in 127 other countries, the organization says. Of the 4 million U.S. babies born annually, 480,000 babies are premature, and 4,750 babies die.
The child of an Amsterdam couple unfortunately became part of that statistic in 2006. Debra and Josh Bartman's first child, Zachary Edmund Bartman, was born 12 weeks early. He passed away two days later.
During those trying days, March of Dimes staff members were by the Bartmans' sides for support, said Deborah Bartman.
"The March of Dimes has done a lot for me, which is why I'm heavily involved with them," she said.
Bartman said she was about 11 weeks pregnant when sonograms indicated her baby's measurements were low. She had some preliminary blood tests and a screening, which came back abnormal.
She was referred to Albany Medical Center for the duration of her pregnancy, and underwent extensive testing. None gave specific answers, Bartman said, and all that could be concluded was that there was a lag in growth, and there was minimal blood flow to the baby from the umbilical cord.
By late January, 2006, Debra Bartman had another sonogram.
"The answers were heartbreaking," she said. "The baby was lagging in growth even more than the weeks before. We were devastated."
A doctor told the couple their son would either die inside the womb, or be born with many developmental issues, and had a 1 percent chance of survival.
Several weeks passed, then Bartman attended another routine doctor visit and ultrasound.
"This time, I brought along my mother for moral support. As we waited for my name to be called, we sat in silence. I knew this was not going to be good -- mother's instinct, I guess."
Bartman's blood pressure was so high, she was told to go directly to Albany Medical Center to give birth to her son. When she arrived, she was given an IV with magnesium to prevent seizures because of her blood pressure.
On Feb. 24, 2006, at 27 weeks, doctors told Bartman her son had to be delivered, or he would die.
"I had an emergency C-section, and around 10 a.m. our son, Zachary Edmund Bartman, came into this world weighing barely more than a pound," she said, adding that he was so little, her husband's wedding band could fit up their baby's leg.
The baby appeared to be OK, but needed to be on a ventilator, and needed special care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
"Unfortunately, I was unable to see him, as I was very ill from all the shock and trauma my body had been through. All I was given was a picture from the NICU, and updates from the nurses and my husband as to how our little man was doing."
At first, Zachary Bartman was responding well to ventilation treatments, and the couple was encouraged when they got to see him the next day.
"He was just perfect in my mind, and I loved him so much. He lay there so helpless, but fighting the whole way. His little legs kicked and a few bursts of cries -- he was just being a baby. We left that night; gave him a kiss and told him we loved him. We would soon realize that would be the last time we would see him so vibrant."
The next morning, a nurse advised Bartman her son's health was failing.
"He was filled with wires, tubes and bandages. I don't think I saw an empty space on his little body. The doctor had told me his heartbeat was at 40 beats per minute for about 30 minutes, and at that point, he was not responding to anything."
Zachary Bartman passed away later that day.
Ever since, the couple has been dedicated to supporting the March of Dimes.
"Because of our son's passing, we have teamed up with the March of Dimes, and met many wonderful people who have been through similar experiences my husband and I have been through. We have learned that we are not alone. And we learned that our goal is the same as all parents, as well as the March of Dimes -- we all want to see the day that every baby is born healthy, and on time."
Bartman found out later the picture she received when she was unable to see her son was made possible by the NICU Family Support Project, sponsored by the March of Dimes. Upon her son's passing, the organization gave her a memory box, which included a lock of Zachary's hair, his blood pressure cuff, the tape used to measure him, and ceramic molds of his teensy hands and feet.
"The memory boxes are part of what the March of Dimes funds for parents, so we can always remember them being that little, whether they pass or survive," Bartman said. "I'm glad that I have it."
Today, the Bartmans have a healthy son, who was born full term, and a healthy daughter, who was born premature at 36 weeks.
"Thanks to the great doctors and research funded by the March of Dimes, our daughter survived," Bartman said.
The Bartmans and their loved ones have faithfully participated in the March for Babies event since their son passed, raising thousands of dollars every year to support the organization.
On Sunday, they hosted a barbecue at Rick's Robo North Car Wash in the town of Amsterdam, in cooperation with Dan's Backyard Barbecue and car wash proprietor Rick Vertucci.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded March of Dimes in 1938 to end polio. After succeeding in 1955, its focus shifted to improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Babies born today continue to receive the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, which were created due to research conducted by the organization.
Babies also benefit from many March of Dimes supported breakthroughs, such as treatments for premature infants, and for children with birth defects.
From the PKU test to surfactant and nitric oxide therapies, March of Dimes has funded research that is saving the lives of thousands of babies, McArdle said. Its researchers are working to discover medical breakthroughs that will increase the number of healthy, full-term births.
The March of Dimes has committed to reducing the United States' rate of premature birth from 12 to 9.6 percent by 2020. The March of Dimes funds scientific research and has established the Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University in California.
For more information, or to sign up for Sunday's event, visit www.marchforbabies.org.