Snohomish County ‘March for Babies’ brings hope to the tiniest among us

Michael McAllister is 14. He’s an eighth-grader at Canyon Park Junior High. He’s a basketball player, a cross-country runner, a big brother and a fan of the video game NASCAR ’14.

When he looks at his baby pictures, it’s hard to believe the fragile infant attached to tubes and wires is him. In one photo, he appears to be wearing a bracelet. But the circle around his tiny arm is his father’s wedding ring.

“Who was this kid?” the Bothell teen said Thursday.

Marcie McAllister, Michael’s mom, remembers.

Seventeen weeks into her pregnancy, she suffered scary symptoms. She was restricted to bed rest after a procedure meant to help her have a full-term baby. Her amniotic sac was repositioned and her cervix sewn shut. The last weeks of her pregnancy were spent in a hospital in Yakima, where she and her husband lived at the time.

Just 25 weeks into the pregnancy, Michael was born at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. He weighed 1 pound 12 ounces and was just over 12 inches long.

Marcie and David McAllister didn’t get to hold their first child until nine days after his birth. On the 10th day, he was flown to the neonatal intensive care unit at UW Medical Center in Seattle.

There were breathing and eye problems, two surgeries and physical and occupational therapy. Michael didn’t walk until he was almost two. He learned sign language and had speech therapy. There were early interventions to help before he started school.

Today, Michael is strong and well, a student and athlete hoping for a career as a police officer.

Later this month, as he has done each year since his birth, Michael will join in the March for Babies, the largest fundraiser for the March of Dimes. “This is our 15th year,” Marcie McAllister said. “The first year, Michael was in a stroller. He still had a heart monitor and oxygen.”

He is part of “Michael’s Team,” and he and his family are raising money for the Snohomish County March for Babies, scheduled for 9 a.m. April 25 at Langus Riverfront Park in Everett. Money raised through the 3.1-mile walk will support March of Dimes efforts to prevent premature births, birth defects and infant mortality.

Dr. Thomas Yetman, chief executive officer of Providence Medical Group Northwest Washington, is chairman of this year’s March of Dimes effort in Snohomish County. Last year, at least 1,000 people participated in the local March for Babies, and more than $241,000 was raised here.

According to the March of Dimes, more than 8,400 babies will be born prematurely in Washington this year. A specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, Yetman said that in 31 years of practice “I have seen the devastating impact of prematurity on families.”

In a statement for March of Dimes, the doctor said he has seen the work the organization does in research and in supporting families like Michael’s. “That work is literally lifesaving and life-changing,” Yetman said.

On his “Michael’s Team” Web page, the teen said March of Dimes helped him by supporting the development of surfactant replacement therapy, used for infants in respiratory distress. “Mom and Dad don’t believe I would be alive today without it,” he said.

In 2006, the McAllisters were blessed with a second son. Matthew, now 8, was a full-term baby. “My brother’s birthday is five days before mine. He was my present for my sixth birthday — the best gift ever,” Michael said.

Today, Michael’s mom is a student at UW Bothell studying accounting. Her husband is manager of Les Schwab Tires in Kirkland. The company is among the March for Babies sponsors. Michael’s Team raised about $1,500 for the 2014 event and aims to top that this year.

Marcie McAllister said most people have no idea what it’s like to have a baby born way too early.

“There’s the scare of a brain bleed, mental handicaps, all kinds of potential trauma,” she said. “Some people think, ‘Oh, premature, they’re just little. They just need to grow.’”

As her family learned, a premature baby needs to grow — and so much more.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

March for Babies

The Snohomish County March for Babies will be held at 9 a.m. April 25 at Langus Riverfront Park, 400 Smith Island Road, Everett. Registration starts at 8 a.m. for the 3.1-mile walk, a March of Dimes fundraiser to help prevent premature births and improve infant health.

Information or to sign up: www.marchforbabies.org

Michael’s Team: www.marchforbabies.org/michaelmca

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