BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KMSP) - The birth of a new child is supposed to be one of the happiest times for any family. However, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, premature birth the second leading cause of death for infants in the state.
This weekend, families from across the Twin Cities gathered at Mall of America to “March for Babies.” The annual event aims to raise more than half a million dollars for March of Dimes, so no family has to leave the hospital without a child.
One Blaine family knows that pain not once, but twice. They use their experience to spread awareness, and are now they are on track to be the top March of Dimes fundraisers in the nation.
Jenny and Andy Brown march in honor of one child and in memory of another.
Twelve years ago, their first son, Colton, was born at 24 weeks.
“He was 1 pound, 8 ounces, and he lived 10 days. And with that, there was every complication,” Andy said.
The first time the Browns could even hold Colton was right before he passed.
“We had a choice to make, whether or not we wanted to keep him on life support, and that was a really difficult decision we had to make at that point,” Andy said.
“Leaving initially without your baby... you always hear about all the excitement of people bringing their baby home and then you just have to leave your baby there,” Jenny said.
“You grieve different every day,” Andy said.
Soon after, they started raising money for March of Dimes, fighting premature birth and the medical complications that follow.
Then, their second son, Ryland, was born.
Also premature, Ryland spent his first two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and survived. He is now an active ten-year-old who loves to travel.
“We just didn't want anyone to really have to struggle like that. And when Ryland was born, he was born at 28 weeks, he was 2 pounds, 12 ounces, and we knew that this is something we need to do more with,” Andy said.
The Browns started fundraising by asking family and friends for small donations. There was a silent auction, and now an annual gala.
“Sometimes we’ve donated things to the NICU in his honor. We’ll buy a bunch of little preemie outfits and donate them, so all the little preemies have something to go home in maybe if their parents didn’t have something for them,” Jenny said.
“Even when Ryland was in the NICU for 62 days, you would look across the hallway and see a baby with no parents, because they are working. And we had a good situation where you (Jenny) could be there. We just don't want that for other parents and that’s where Brown Boys Benefit comes in,” Andy said.
“The big thing with Ryland was just having all those things while I was pregnant available to me, and just being able to carry him longer than our first baby,” Jenny said.
Last year, the Browns were ranked third among the top March of Dimes fundraisers in the country.
“Naturally, I just said lets shoot for the stars. And then let’s go for 100,000,” Andy said.
With their third annual gala behind them, the Browns have already met and surpassed that goal. Now they wait to find out if they will earn the top spot.
“It would be great, but it's never enough and so we continue that story and we want people to do the same,” Andy said.
“They don't really know why I have preemies at all, so there's not like oh this is the exact reason and this is what we need to fix. It's just let’s get babies as healthy as possible and stay in there as long as possible, so when they come out, they have a better chance,” Jenny said.
In June, the Browns will find out if they raised the most money in the country. Part of the money they raise helps families with financial needs when their babies are sick.
“Just being able to tell your story, regularly, that’s how you get connections with people, that’s how you heal,” Andy said. “One of the questions I get asked a lot is how many kids I have… If I say one, I’m not telling the truth. If I say two, then my story is told, and every follow up question that happens after that, just forces me to let it out,” Andy said.
The Twin Cities March for Babies was held on Saturday, April 28 at Mall of America. To learn more, click here.