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'MIRACLE BABIES' AWARDS EVENT DRAWS A CROWD

Sept. 29, 2003 – Two years ago, Cleone Boston never envisioned she would be standing in front of 300-plus people who all came out to support her group, as she did Sunday on St. Thomas.
Back then, the Miracle Babies Support Foundation was just an idea shared with three other St. Thomas mothers whose babies were born prematurely. Some of those newborns, including Boston's son Alec Craig, didn't make it. Others, "so small you could put a bag of flour in your hand and it would be bigger," did survive, and thrive, like her 4-year-old daughter Alexis, who weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces at birth.
"We were just mothers who had been through a lot," said Dawn Smalls, one of the original support group founders. "Most of us had to fly to Miami Children's Hospital, where we found great support, but we wanted something here to help other parents whose babies were born premature."
Smalls continued, "It's touching to me that so many people came to this luncheon; so many people of all ages now understand the need for improvement of the hospital for future mothers."
Another Miracle Babies founder, Christina Jackson, said working on behalf of the foundation "is a way of giving something back" to the community, "because someone was there for me when I needed help with my oldest child."
Jackson said the group is not just about raising money for equipment; it's also there to support and encourage parents of premature babies, to show them that with the proper care, their infants can avoid long-term problems and live healthy lives.
About 10 percent of all births on St. Thomas are premature, some as much as 14 weeks before their due date. Many of these babies have problems breathing, and others, like Alexis, have heart problems. Many must be taken off-island because they need specialized equipment and intensive care.
September is Premature Infant Awareness Month, and more than 300 Virgin Islanders came out Sunday to the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort for the first awards luncheon of the Miracle Babies Support Foundation. As of Monday morning, with ticket sales tallied, the group showed proceeds likely to exceed $10,000 to benefit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Roy L. Schneider Hospital.
"I have good news today," WSTA radio personality Alex Randall said in his booming broadcast voice on Sunday, "and that is that all of you are here now. A lot of children are here today, and to the babies who are here, a lot of them are miracle babies." Randall's wife, Beverly Banks-Randall, is the chief neonatologist at Schneider Hospital, and one of the four people honored at the event.
"I’m just so proud of everyone in this community who came out or gave financially to this cause," Banks-Randall said. "If we can do this for the tiniest of us, there's nothing we can't achieve."
Also honored at the luncheon were hospital employee Julian Magras, for helping with the hospital's recovery from Hurricane Marilyn; Lineth Sylvester, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit clinical care coordinator; and attorney Judy Gomez, for her involvement with many children's issues.
Presenting the honorees with small "guardian angel" pins on Sunday were four St. Thomas "Miracle Babies" born in 1999 — Alexis Miracle Boston, Dystanie Smalls, Mariama Chambers and Dulajuwan Percival.
Within two years, the Miracle Babies Support Foundation raised enough money to purchase a $13,000 piece of equipment to help premature babies who have breathing problems. The "continuous positive airway pressure" machine opens up the tiny lungs enough so that the baby can breathe without being placed on a ventilator. The foundation also raised money to purchase a breast pump for mothers to use while their babies are in the intensive care unit.
Boston said the money raised on Sunday would likely go toward the purchase of an infant manikin to help teach parents infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR. She said the organization has a wish list of items the intensive care unit needs. Some are very expensive, such as a high-technology ventilator and a micro-analyzer for blood samples; others are less so, such as a special "preemie pacifier."
With specialized equipment, the intensive care unit could become a great recruiting tool for pediatric doctors and other staff, Boston said. In fact, one of the hospital's goals is to develop the unit as a regional center for the care of premature babies throughout the Caribbean.
"I think great things are going to come from this," Rodney Miller, Schneider Hospital chief executive officer, said.
"With funding opportunities from grants and other sources, this whole effort could grow into something bigger," Miller said. "What this turnout shows is how much confidence the community has in both the Miracle Babies Support Foundation and the hospital. Folks are behind us."
For more information about the foundation, call Boston at 714-9603. To learn more about the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the hospital, call 776-8311, ext. 3152.

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