Savannah Lynn Gaines eagerly ran around tables and chairs with half a chocolate chip cookie in her hand, lips and cheeks smeared with the remnants of the first few bites.
Just looking at the toddler, few would guess she had entered the world too early and at a dangerously low weight.
But that’s exactly what happened, as her mother Michelle Gaines explained Tuesday night during the kickoff for an annual March of Dimes fundraiser at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
The Gaines are this year’s ambassadors for the local March for Babies, which will be held April 26 at Otwell Middle School.
As her husband, Amos, stood with their daughter in his arms before the crowd Tuesday, Michelle Gaines explained the premature birth experience. She recalled how on April 5, 2012, her “whole life got turned upside down.”
“At 24 and a half weeks [of pregnancy], I started having some contractions and went to the doctor thinking, ‘Fourth baby, no biggie,’” she said.
Gaines ended up being admitted to Northside Hospital-Forsyth, and while doctors and nurses kept telling her that the child could be born at any time, she held out hope she would be able to make it another 11 to 12 weeks.
“I delivered my third [child] at 36 weeks because I had previous [cesarean] sections, so we had already scheduled the C-section for 36 weeks and I just kept in the mindset that I was going to stay on bed rest and make it,” Gaines recalled.
She did make it another 49 days on bed rest, but then went into labor at 31 weeks gestation.
Little Savannah weighed just 3 pounds and 13 ounces and was 17 inches in length. Her lungs suffered as a result of her limited time in the womb, so she was placed on machines to help her breathe.
Savannah ended up having to remain in the neonatal intensive care unit for 32 days before she was allowed to come home on June 19, weighing 5 pounds and 5 ounces.
Since then, she has flourished. Her parents credit research by the March of Dimes for much of that success.
“We had always heard about March of Dimes, but never knew a lot about March of Dimes,” Michelle Gaines said. “But this year when we walk [in the March of Babies], it has a whole new meaning for us.”
During Tuesday’s kickoff, team leaders and other supporters gathered to collect supplies — and inspiration — for the fundraising effort.
Besides the Gaines family, they also heard from Forsyth County School Superintendent Buster Evans, who for the past few years has served as the honorary chairman of the march.
Evans said the mission of March of Dimes to ensure that every baby is born healthy is important to him since a healthy start in life leads to academic success.
Lindsey Shadburn Simpson, chairwoman of this year’s march, and Amanda Meeks, whose family members were the 2010 ambassadors, also shared ways the supporters can increase their efforts.
Simpson said this year’s fundraising goal is $170,000 after the march collected $165,000 last year.
“Every family regardless of whether you have a premature baby or not, should all walk because this is for all babies,” Gaines said. “It’s for all moms, all babies, all families, so everybody should walk.”