WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Jan. 7, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Chris and Vince Centofanti thought they knew all about preterm birth. She was a neonatal nurse-practitioner caring for critically ill babies, and he worked for GE Healthcare's Maternal-Infant Care division, providing specialized medical equipment to hospitals.
But then their own baby, Nina, was born nine weeks early, weighing less than three pounds. She suffered from respiratory distress and spent her first five weeks fighting for life in a newborn intensive care unit (NICU).
"I can't tell you how difficult it was, seeing our own little girl lying in the NICU, fighting for life. All our hopes and dreams for her hung in the balance," says Chris Centofanti. "As a nurse-practitioner I've seen many other parents in this situation, and now I know exactly how they feel."
"I never expected that my own daughter would have to be cared for in a NICU with the equipment I had provided to the hospital," says Vince Centofanti.
Chris adds, "Thanks to the care that Nina received, and the support of the March of Dimes for research and treatment, now we also know the relief and joy parents feel when their child survives and becomes healthy enough to leave the NICU and go home."
Today Nina Centofanti has grown into an active 7-year-old who loves to dance, climb trees and turn handsprings. She has been named the March of Dimes 2013 National Ambassador.
As ambassador, Nina and her family will travel the United States visiting public officials and corporate sponsors, and encouraging people to participate in the March of Dimes' largest fundraiser, March for Babies. The money raised supports community programs that help moms have healthy, full term pregnancies, and funds research to find answers to the problems that threaten babies' lives.
"Serving as the National Ambassador family is a way for us to show our appreciation for our children's good health, and serve as advocates for lifesaving March of Dimes programs," says Vince. "The March of Dimes has provided 75 years of support for research, treatments, educational and prenatal care programs that has saved lives, reduced the suffering, and improved the quality of life for countless children and the parents who love them. My daughter Nina is one of their success stories; a perfect example of what March of Dimes efforts have accomplished."
Nearly half a million babies in the U.S. are born too soon each year. Babies who survive an early birth often have breathing problems, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and other lifelong problems. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants.
The Centofantis have been dedicated March of Dimes volunteers for several years. In 2012, Vince joined more than 1000 colleagues at GE in Cincinnati to raise more than $240,000 for their March for Babies campaign.
"Even though Chris and I had experience in the NICU and working with the March of Dimes, nothing could have prepared us for having our own preemie," Vince says.
While pregnant with Nina, Chris felt unwell at 31 weeks and went to the hospital. She was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, a form of high blood pressure with elevated liver enzymes and a low blood platelet count. It is a rare, but potentially life-threatening illness that typically occurs late in pregnancy. The only treatment is to deliver the baby as soon as possible.
For the next 48 hours, Chris was treated with steroids to help develop baby Nina's lungs before birth. At birth, Nina was immediately transferred to the NICU, where she spent the next five weeks.
In addition, the Centofantis have an older son Nick, and a second daughter, Mia, who was born at 35 weeks of pregnancy, thanks in part to weekly progesterone treatments which reduced the risk of Chris going into premature labor.
"Even though things didn't go as planned, we've been blessed with three healthy children, thanks in large part to the work of the March of Dimes. Just a few years ago, the outcome might have been very different," says Chris. United Airlines is the official airline sponsor of the March of Dimes National Ambassador Program for the 8th consecutive year, and a National Sponsor of March of Dimes March for Babies. With an employee base of 85,000 strong, United is committed to making the communities it serves a priority, and is helping the March of Dimes reach hundreds of thousands of families with important information about having healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, 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.
SOURCE March of Dimes