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Walkers Rally to Help Premature Babies

The 37th Leesburg WalkAmerica will take place April 29 at Ida Lee Park.

When Katelyn Marie Hall was born Nov. 16, 2003, she was the size of an ink pen and given a 5 percent chance to live. Now, three and half years later, she is starting to walk and is learning sign language.

Katelyn was born at 25 weeks, three-and-a-half months premature, via an emergency Cesarean section. She weighed only 15.5 ounces and was just under a foot in length. During her five and half months in neonatal intensive care unit at Georgetown Hospital, Katelyn spent two months on a ventilator, had heart surgery at 1 week old to close her patent ductus arteriosus, which circulate the body's blood, and had numerous other infections. Having been born so earlier, very little of her left cerebellum had developed.

Overall, Katelyn's treatment cost more than $1 million and now her family is determined to raise that same amount for the March of Dimes.

"We raised $23,000 last year and this year we're hoping to get over $25,000," Michael Hall, Katelyn's father, said.

TO HELP REACH their goal, the Hall family is participating in the March of Dimes' Leesburg WalkAmerica for the third year. This year's event will take place Sunday, April 29, at Ida Lee Park.

"We are expecting between 400 and 500 people," Kate Seaver, organizer of the Leesburg walk, said. "It is very local and community oriented because there are so many families affected."

The Hall family first became active in the March of Dimes when one of Ashley Hall's co-workers put a brochure on her desk in November 2004. The brochure highlighted the work of the March of Dimes in honor of National Prematurity Awareness Day, which happened to be Katelyn's birthday. Since then, the Halls have been involved with the organization, even earning enough money in their first year to have a $20,000 grant in Katelyn's name dedicated to the Preemie Prevention Project.

"[Premature birth] can happen to absolutely anyone," Dona Dei, the director of program services, said. "We want to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms."

Michael Hall said he hopes that other parents and citizens will look to his family not only as a means to raise money for the March of Dimes, but also as a resource.

"We've pretty much gone through everything someone with a premature baby can go through," he said. "We want to be able to help other families going through the same thing."

LIKE WITH THE HALL family, Leesburg WalkAmerica has become a family project for Ashburn resident Jennifer Sedlmeyer and her family. Sedlmeyer was a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at Fairfax hospital, where she became familiar with the problems facing parents with premature babies.

"I saw how difficult it could be," she said.

Around the same time, Sedlmeyer's sister-in-law, Alexis Lloyd, went into premature labor, giving birth at 34 weeks.

"I didn't think premature birth applied to me at all," Lloyd said. "I didn't even realize that I had the symptoms."

Since Lloyd gave birth to now 2-year-old Regan, the whole family has gotten involved with the March of Dimes, helping to raise more than $15,000 over the last three years. In addition, Sedlmeyer also received the Katelyn Marie Hall grant to put toward projects that help educate women on the signs of premature labor.

"We are working with fertility clinics to help prevent multiple births," she said. "We are also offering free classes to women who cannot afford prenatal care, to help them have the information they need."

Lloyd said she now understands the need to educate women more fully on premature births.

"There are so many women who just don't understand it and the ramifications," she said. "So much is education, if women just knew the signs."

ALL OF THE money raised during Leesburg WalkAmerica will go to family and mother support projects, with at least 25 percent staying in the D.C.-metropolitan area, Seaver said.

Dei said the money will fund the March of Dimes "Healthy Babies, Healthy Business" program that connects companies directly with the March of Dimes Web site to help educate their pregnant employees. The money will also help fund educational materials for people in the medical field who work with women and children.

"The money we send to the national organization helps to fund those projects and research as well," Dei said.

The funds will also help support shareyourstory.org, where parents of premature babies can tell their story and talk to others in the same situation.

"They can go on whenever they need someone to talk to," Dei said. "People really use it as a great resource."

While residents are encouraged to register for the walk online, Dei said they will be accepting walkers the day of the event.

"We are just excited to have people be a part of our team," she said. "When they leave we hope that they have more of awareness about premature birth and then we can turn that money around and help others."