March of Dimes Selects North Carolina Girl as Its 65th National Ambassador

Todd P. Dezen, (914) 997-4608; tdezen@marchofdimes.com
Elizabeth Lynch, (914) 997-4286, elynch@marchofdimes.com

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., JAN. 19, 2011 — Six-year-old Lauren Fleming of Marvin, N.C., who spent the first 5 months of life struggling to survive in a hospital newborn intensive care unit (NICU), today was named the March of Dimes 2011 National Ambassador.

Lauren’s parents, Nikki and Densel, never imagined that their first child would be born 3½ months early and weighing only 2 pounds, 1 ounce. They watched and waited while Lauren was treated in the NICU at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., for respiratory distress and underwent multiple surgeries related to a damaged vocal cord and a heart defect. Nikki says, “Not having our baby girl home for the first 5 months of her life was agonizing. We visited her in the hospital every day, but during the night if she needed comfort, I couldn’t just walk down to her room and hold her. Those are 5 months I will never get back.”

Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. More than half a million babies are born prematurely in the United States each year, and those who survive often face lifetime health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and others. As a longtime March of Dimes volunteer, Densel knew that as African-Americans, he and Nikki were at 50 percent greater risk of having a premature child.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes says, “Infants born to African-American women have the highest prematurity rate of all racial groups. In 2008, the preterm birth rate for non-Hispanic African-American infants was 17.5 percent compared to 11.1 percent among non-Hispanic white infants and 12.3 percent for the nation. We are grateful to the Fleming family for helping the March of Dimes bring attention to this devastating problem.”

Lauren still has some health problems because of her early birth, but her family says she is doing great. She is a warm and loving child who makes friends easily and loves to dance, draw, create storybooks and read. The Flemings are grateful for the March of Dimes research and treatment that helped Lauren beat the odds and helped their other two children, Erin and Corbin, be born healthy.

As National Ambassador, Lauren will travel the country with her family to share her amazing story, help raise awareness of premature birth and encourage families and companies to walk with them in March for Babies® this spring. Densel says, “Knowing that my daughter benefited because I and thousands of other volunteers have been supporting the March of Dimes for years, is an unbelievable feeling. Nikki and I are thrilled now to be able to share our story on a national level and be able to ask others to give back in support of this organization that is working for stronger, healthier babies.”

The March of Dimes National Ambassador Program is an annual campaign, started in 1946, that puts a face on the March of Dimes mission. United Airlines will continue to serve as the official airline sponsor of the March of Dimes National Ambassador Program. United Airlines President and CEO, Jeff Smisek, said, “We are honored to be the official airline sponsor of the National Ambassador Program for the 6th consecutive year. This gives us the opportunity to support a family who has been through so much and is committed to giving back. We look forward to having Lauren and her family fly with United Airlines and we remain committed to fighting premature birth.”

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

To follow Lauren as she travels the country, visit Lauren’s blog at marchofdimes.com/laurensstory.

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©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).