OCEANSIDE — More than 1,000 walkers and runners took part in the March of Dimes 5K on April 12.
Many participants have a very personal connection to the fundraiser walk/run.
About 10 percent of the 48,000 babies born annually in San Diego County are born preterm and face greater health risks. More than 1,400 babies are born with a birth defect, and more than 200 die within their first year.
The mission of March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature births and infant mortality.
The annual 5K walk/run is the nonprofit’s premiere fundraising event to support its efforts.
Shawna Emery walked with family and friends to celebrate her grandson Gabriel, who was born prematurely at 23 weeks — 16 weeks short of a full-term pregnancy.
He will be 2 years old next month.
“He’s amazing,” Emery said. “They said he wouldn’t be able to do anything. He’s able to do everything.”
Emery showed off a tattoo of his infant footprints that is a reminder he is a miracle.
Heidi Palomera walked with Team Carlos to celebrate Carlos Palomera, 9, who was born with cerebral palsy.
Carlos has faced and overcome numerous challenges, including learning to walk at age 4.
Team Carlos members dressed as super heroes. Carlos wore a T-shirt with a big letter “C” and blue cape.
Sheri Lunn, March of Dimes director of communications, said those who do not have a personal connection find one during the walk when they hear families’ stories, and meet children who have overcome huge health challenges and discouraging medical odds.
“It’s incredibly inspiring,” Lunn said.
Rosalinda Hernandez walked with 100 coworkers from Tri-City Medical Center.
March of Dimes sponsors the Tri-City NICU family support program. The two organizations have a strong partnership.
Channel 10 News/Azteca San Diego is another longtime supporter of the walk.
The television station participates annually as part of its commitment to the countywide Live Well initiative that calls on families to improve their health, safety and wellbeing.
“I’ve seen some of these babies grow up,” Paola Hernandez, television host of Azetca 15, said.
There are also families who participate in the walk to support medical advancements.
“It’s heartbreaking, some are walking to memorialize a baby they lost,” Lunn said.
Funds raised support research; advocacy for legislation to improve the health of infants, children and women; education efforts that reach out to hospitals, parents and expectant moms; and family support.
On average, each walker raises $100.
“We want to see a day every baby is born healthy,” Lunn said.
Current research efforts are looking at cell function in heart development and how it relates to heart defects; the role of immune system cells in triggering preterm labor; and how problems with brain cell development contribute to neurological conditions.
A March of Dimes 5K will be also held at Balboa Park on April 26. More than 7,000 are expected to participate in the walk/run.
The combined fundraising goal for the two events is $1 million.