VALPARAISO | Chloe Campbell played with a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear as her family and friends prepared to walk on her behalf Sunday morning.
The 17-month-old Valparaiso girl, who was born six weeks early and suffered breathing problems, is now the picture of health.
She and her family are ambassadors for this year's Porter County March for Babies, which raises money for the March of Dimes to help prevent premature births, birth defects and infant deaths.
About 800 walkers stepped off from the David Butterfield Pavilion at Old Fairgrounds Park on a five-mile trek through downtown Valparaiso.
Chloe's parents, Elizabeth and Matthew, and older brother, Connor, 4, were among a team of 27 walkers wearing purple T-shirts with the words “Chloe's Walking Buddies.” The team has raised more than $2,000, Elizabeth Campbell said.
As a pediatrician, Elizabeth Campbell has seen many babies in Porter Regional Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. But that experience could not prepare her for the week Chloe spent there.
“I knew it from the doctor side, but to learn it as a parent was completely different,” she said. “Only when I had my own child did I really understand what they went through.”
Many of those walking were on corporate teams. U.S. Steel, which participated for the first time in the walk, had the largest team with 155 walkers.
Joel Palaschak, coordinator of community affairs with U.S. Steel Gary Works, said his company also is planning a fundraiser this summer with a goal of reaching 100,000 dimes.
The Porter County walk is expected to raise $86,000, said Victor Garcia, northwest division director with the March of Dimes Indiana Chapter.
A walk in LaPorte County netted $32,000, and a walk scheduled for May 5 in Highland should bring in about $208,000, Garcia said.
Of the money raised, 80 percent stays in Indiana to support local programs, Garcia said.
The March of Dimes is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to raise money for research on infantile paralysis.
After the polio vaccine was developed, the organization changed its focus to premature births, birth defects and infant mortality.
It has conducted fundraising walks since 1970. It was the first group in the nation to do a walk to raise money, said Bri Stimson, community director with the March of Dimes.
While there's still work to be done, the research funded through local walks and other donations has enabled many babies to thrive.
“Now, even the smallest and earliest babies can live happy, healthy lives,” Elizabeth Campbell said.