RUMFORD – The falls over the dam from the reflecting pool in the Androscoggin River will be awash in pink and blue lights from dusk to 9 p.m. Tuesday, as will Rumford Hospital’s new lobby.

The hospital is sponsoring the “Moment of Hope,” which is part of the March of Dimes national campaign for public awareness that preterm birth is a common, costly and severe problem.

About 12 percent of all live births in the U.S. each year are preterm. The premature birth rate has increased 29 percent in the last 20 years. Prematurity is the leading killer of newborns in the first month of life and a major cause of cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness and chronic lung problems.

Jessica Howard knows firsthand many of the problems of prematurity. Her son, Blaine Viger, was born 2 months premature in the winter of 2005. Since then, he has battled meningitis, renopathy of the eyes’ blood vessels, gastric reflux and lactose intolerance, among other things.

“Infants born this early don’t know how to suck, swallow and breath all at the same time,” said Howard, “so in the early weeks he was getting breast milk through a tube.” Blaine has difficulty gaining weight, so he again has a supplemental feeding tube, which Howard hopes is a temporary situation.

After 3 months in a neonatal intensive care unit, Blaine came home weighing six pounds.

“Blaine had a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, geneticist, ophthalmologist and nephrologist, in addition to Dr. Rick Marden of Elsemore Dixfield Center, his primary care physician,” said Howard. “We’ve added occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.”

Howard is committed to supporting the March of Dimes in leading the fight to defeat prematurity. In addition to public awareness efforts, the MOD funds research to find causes and prevention measures, educates women about the signs of preterm labor and assists health care professionals to improve prematurity risk detection.

The annual spring Walk America event is the MOD’s major fundraiser. Last year, Blaine was the Rumford area’s poster child for the walk.

In a brief ceremony in the information booth parking lot at 4 p.m. just before the pink and blue lights are turned on, Howard will talk about her commitment to defeating prematurity. The Moment of Hope is sponsored by Rumford Hospital’s Family Birthing Center.

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