Marching Against the Clock

March of Dimes continues to save moms and their babies from the hills of California to the fields of the Bluegrass state


By Rachel Porter
Photos provided by organization


Mothers keep the universe spinning, literally and figuratively. Without them, there would not be much of the world known today. Every mother and the child she bears deserve a chance to experience all life has to offer, but that sadly is not the case for millions of mothers across the country. The U.S. is one of the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth, especially for women and babies of color. For over 80 years, March of Dimes, a national nonprofit organization, has led the fight for the health of all moms and babies. “We are leading the cause for not only research and data but are figuring out why the U.S. is still one of the worst for birth,” said Emily Wellis, the donor development manager of March of Dimes Kentuckiana.

Before the March of Dimes mission was prioritizing the health of mothers and infants across the country, it was one of the original leaders of research for polio vaccination. “Originally, when FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) was president and polio was a huge illness taking the nation, he started the foundation called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was founded to create the polio vaccination,” said Wellis. The foundation was better known as the March of Dimes. After the vaccine, the organization moved away and became its entity to focus solely on mothers and babies. 

Over the years, the nonprofit has had enormous research breakthroughs that have saved millions of lives. “The medical research and strides of things have been huge for March of Dimes since day one,” said Wellis. According to the website, the research has aided victories such as discovering the genes for Marfan and Fragile X syndromes and developing pulmonary surfactant therapy to treat respiratory distress syndrome. There are five Prematurity Research Centers, including one in London, to ultimately end preterm birth. 

The organization and families are still asking why two babies die from preterm complications and pregnancy complications every hour, and every 12 hours, one mom dies from pregnancy complications. March of Dimes research has also concluded that black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women and black babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday. Unfortunately, Kentucky reflects many of these numbers. March of Dimes offers a report card each year that evaluates the overview of the health of moms and babies across the U.S. In 2020, Kentucky scored a ‘D.’ Through statistics provided by March of Dimes, Kentucky’s infant mortality rate is currently 6:1, and 30% of black mothers in the state will have a premature baby. There are multiple reasons for these numbers, but Wellis said health equity is the main one. “There is a huge health equity gap in Louisville; we now have a task force funded by Humana to understand this more,” said Wellis. However, even for cities outside of Louisville, health disparities are still a problem. “You will find health deserts in rural communities where the closest hospital could be 30 minutes away. There may not be enough ambulances to get there in time, especially for a preterm baby with complications.”  

March of Dimes hosts the Signature Chefs Auction Event throughout the country to continue the fight every year. Louisville has the honor of hosting one at the Marriott in downtown Louisville on Nov. 11. It features over 15 of Louisville’s best chefs like Josh Moore from Volare. Guests will also have a chance to hear the stories of an ambassador family who share their NICU journey. “With more funding comes more opportunity for growth,” exclaimed Wellis. March of Dimes would be thrilled to develop more roles to place people in NICUS with families. To learn more, visit signaturechefs.marchofdimes.org.

Signature Chefs Auction
Nov. 11 at 6 p.m.
Louisville Marriott Downtown
280 W Jefferson St.
Louisville, KY 40202