BREWER, Maine — When Amanda Pate was pregnant, there was no indication that she was going to have any problems until the day her water broke — 72 days before she was due to give birth.
“I didn’t have any complications at all,” she said of her pregnancy on Sunday at the March of Dimes annual Walk for Babies.
When her son Austin Pate was born, he weighed a mere 2 pounds, 10 ounces.
“I was very nervous,” said his father, Alex Pate. “It was scary because I knew it wasn’t time to be a dad yet.”
Their son was due on March 9, 2008, but he was born on Dec. 27, 2007. He spent 56 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. The hardest part of the experience was that “nobody can tell you that it’s going to be OK,” Amanda Pate said. “That was pretty scary.”
The couple formed “Team Austin” and participated in their first March for Babies three years ago, when their son was about 6 months old. This year they are the walk’s ambassador family.
Their team has grown to about 15 members, including Amanda’s mother, other family members and friends, and this year raised more than $1,200 to support efforts to reduce the rate of premature births in Maine and the nation.
Team Austin was among more than 300 walkers who registered to participate in Sunday’s walk, said Sue Tidd, community director of the eastern and northern Maine divisions of the March of Dimes. The Bangor-Brewer fundraiser is expected to raise around $60,000.
“The money goes toward a lot of different areas the March of Dimes focuses on,” she said.
The focus areas include research, advocacy, and supporting parents while they’re at the hospital with their premature baby, Tidd said.
“Our goal is that every baby will be born healthy,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”
More than 1,500 babies are born premature each year in Maine. Arriving early is the leading cause of death for babies, and those who survive sometimes have lifelong health problems such as learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss or asthma.
The neonatal intensive care unit makes all the difference, said Alex Pate, who remarked that his son has been a little slow to develop, but is coming along fine.
“Whatever his friends are going, he’s doing it three months later,” he said.
The 3-mile March for Babies is one of 15 in Maine that are expected to raise approximately $480,000 this year to support March of Dimes programs.
Area businesses, students and staff from the University of Maine and UMaine fraternities, as well as area agencies formed groups, some wearing identifying T-shirts, for the Bangor-Brewer walk.
The 16-member Sun Tan City group wore black shirts and raised about $2,000, said Suzi Howard, a district manager for the business. She said the March of Dimes is the corporate charity.
The Bangor Savings Bank group included 30 employees and their friends and family, who raised more than $2,500 to support the cause, team captain Stephanie Oiler said.
The biggest individual fundraiser for the event was longtime supporter Paula Peirce of Exeter, who works at the Union Street Hannaford and walked with the Hannaford team.
“I did $3,500” this year, she said. “Last year, I did $2,700.”
Peirce first began walking in 1991, a couple of years after her granddaughter was born prematurely and needed emergency surgery to survive. She spent three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“I do it for all the babies,” Peirce said. “You never know what is going to hit home. It’s dear to my heart.”
First-time participants Mesha and Daniel Pomeroy of Carmel, who brought along their 6-month-old son, Julien, said they got their entire family to participate. The couple said their baby did not need the services of the neonatal intensive care unit, but they wanted to do what they could for others who do.
“We support everything baby,” Mesha Pomeroy said.
After Austin was in the neonatal intensive care unit for nearly two months, the Pates were allowed to take their 5-pound son out of the hospital to their home in Old Town.
“People would say, ‘He’s so tiny,’ and I would say, ‘What are you talking about? He’s big,’” Austin’s mother recalled.
Austin is now a rambunctious 2-year-old who ran around the Brewer Auditorium on Sunday showing no signs of slowing down.
“He loves basically anything that goes — trucks, trains, his bike,” Amanda Pate said.
The walk began Sunday morning at the Brewer Auditorium, made its way into Bangor and returned to Brewer.