By Jessica Hoefer for TCAJoB
Kate Brendel came into the world 17 weeks earlier than expected, weighing a mere one pound, one ounce. Her skin was translucent and her eyes were sealed shut.
Sue and Brian Brendel knew the prognosis was grim as Kate was given a 10 percent chance of survival.
“We’d had our daughter in December of 2004,” Sue Brendel said. “She was with us for three days at Kadlec in the NICU.”
Before Kate passed away, she reached out and grabbed her mother’s index finger. It’s one of the few pictures Brendel has of her daughter, yet Kate’s memory is very much alive thanks to a flyer hanging in a craft store window.
Brendel was still grieving for her daughter when she saw the sign for March for Babies, which at that time was called Walk America, a March of Dimes event to help stop infant mortality and prematurity.
“I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I’ve been searching for’. A way to ensure no other family feels the way ours does, and a way to keep her presence in our family’s life,” Brendel said.
The Brendels didn’t want Kate to be a blip on their radar; she was a part of the family and always would be. Brendel’s original intention was to pick up craft supplies to create birth announcements that doubled as thank you cards for the 200 people who attended Kate’s funeral. The March for Babies was just two weeks away, and armed with the information she saw on the flyer, she decided to include a note about the event.
“We’d never known anyone who’d lost a baby, and we wanted to share what we’d learned,” she said.
Inside the notes, she asked friends and family to join them on the walk or to help sponsor their team.
“Within two weeks we raised $6,100,” she said.
Proceeds are used to help moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies, providing information and comfort if something goes wrong. In addition, money raised during the walk is to research problems that threaten infant mortality.
Originally started in 1938 as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis by President Roosevelt, polio vaccines and screenings helped shape the organization into the March of Dimes. Since it’s inception, the organization has seen a five-year reduction in preterm births nationwide; however, the reason for 40 percent of preterm births is still unknown. Babies born before thirty-six weeks face learning and behavior problems, increased risk of cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, as well as breathing and feeding problems.
This year’s walk took place May 3 at the John Dam Plaza in Richland. The Brendels have put a family team together every year since Kate’s death, and to date have raised nearly $250,000 to support the March of Dimes.
“Last year we raised $17,000,” she said. “But really it’s about telling our story and raising awareness. I’ve learned it can happen to anybody, and you’re never ready for it. But there have been amazing strides in helping babies.”
Nearly 800 people attended the event, which raised more than $150,000. The event was sponsored locally by Kadlec Regional Medical Center, Bechtel, Energy Northwest, Gesa Credit Union, Mission Support Alliance, KeyBak, Washington River Protection Solutions, Energy Solutions and Reser’s Fine Foods.
Don Karger, owner of Henry’s Restaurant & Catering, is also a big advocate for the March of Dimes and its fundraising events.
He and his wife, Nancy, lost two children who were born prematurely. Karger is the chairman of the local chapter’s finance committee and challenged the community to raise $40,000 in new revenue as part of an overall chapter goal of $220,000.
In order to meet that milestone, Karger focused on recruiting new companies to participate in making a difference for the health of moms and babies. But no matter the size of the gift, Karger knows that every donation counts, helping to save lives.
“You don’t know whose dollar is going to solve the problem,” said Karger. “One in 10 of our babies here in Washington are born premature, and that’s just not acceptable.”
Even though the March for Babies is over, Brendel and Karger said donations are accepted throughout the summer.
In the fall, the March of Dimes will switch gears and host the Signature Chefs Auction event, featuring silent and live auction items and tastings from area chefs—including Karger.
To find out more about the Signature Chefs Auction, or to make a donation to support the March for Babies event, visit marchforbabies.org.