When Shalini Wittstruck was pregnant with her first child, she was meticulous in ensuring that her baby would be healthy. She read all of the baby books and perused the vast collection of information online, and took her prenatal vitamins as prescribed.
Wittstruck knew of the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit that strives to improve the health of mothers and babies, and had heard of an upcoming kickoff event through her employer. However, she felt the event would be depressing, as she would be having a “perfect, textbook pregnancy.”
“And lo and behold, at thirty-one weeks, our child came into this world at three pounds, one ounce,” Wittstruck said. “It was one of the scariest moments of our life.”
She partly credits the health of her 6-year-old son, Kieran, to the March of Dimes, which offers research, support, development and a knowledge base for families that have premature births or children born with birth defects.
Her husband, Shane, said Kieran benefitted from surfactant, a naturally-occurring substance that allows premature babies to breathe without the assistance of a machine. He said surfactant is a “key element” that the March of Dimes helped fund and research.
“The research the March of Dimes does has a direct impact on these people’s lives,” Shane Wittstruck said, adding that one in eight babies are born in the U.S. prematurely. “It’s had a direct impact in our life. … We realized this was a cause we wanted to get behind. We wanted to support [the organization] because we wanted to ensure that all babies in the future will be born healthy.”
Shalini Wittstruck agreed.
“The list goes on and on and on,” she said of the organization’s offerings during a fundraising event last week. “We are here today with a success story, and we have the opportunity to say thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Kieran is now an energetic and inquisitive six year old. He’s been selected as the National Ambassador for the March of Dimes, and made an appearance during the local fundraising event last week at the Farmers Insurance headquarters near Wilshire Boulevard and Rossmore Avenue.
The company, striving to raise more than $2 million nationwide during its 7th Annual “Be a Hero for Babies Day”, held a nationwide event that, locally, featured hot air balloon rides, a carnival, food, Pinewood Derby races and a chance to meet NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne.
“We always like to have Kasey out to refresh his driving skills on the 405,” Farmers Insurance CEO Jeff Dailey joked.
David Travers, the head of operations for Farmers, said the event represents a big day and a big mission for the March of Dimes, an organization that produces real-life results.
“This is an organization that says, ‘That’s the hill. Let’s go,’” he said.
LaVerne Council, the chair of the March of Dimes, said 500,000 children are born prematurely each year. She too has been in such a situation, having raised a baby born prematurely who has required more than 20 surgeries since his birth.
“It can happen to anyone,” Council said. “Only through graces, I get to celebrate Mother’s Day every year.”
She praised Farmers Insurance for helping the organization over the years, saying that the company has helped raise awareness for a worthy cause.
“The idea is to remind people that we have to care about the smallest of us,” Council said.
Kahne, who finished 14th in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, helped present the Farmers Insurance $2.5 million check to the March of Dimes. He also met with Kieran and signed his Pinewood Derby cars.
“It feels good,” Kahne said of supporting the event. “It’s nice to see what Farmers Insurance and all the people here do for the March of Dimes, raising money for babies.”
He said the company has raised approximately $40 million for the March of Dimes over the last seven years, an “unbelievable” amount. Kahne already referenced his personal charity, the Kasey Kahne Foundation, which supports chronically ill children and their families.
“It’s been pretty neat,” he said of giving back to the community. “It’s actually pretty cool to see a smile on a kid’s face.
Kahne said that helping such causes is one of the staples of the NASCAR community.
“It’s not just the drivers or the owners — so many fans get behind that as well and support everyone’s foundations,” he said. “So we’ve had some really good turnouts at some of our events. We raise a good bit of money and have fun with the fans and the kids who get the opportunity to do something they wouldn’t normally get to do.”
For information or to donate, visit www.marchofdimes.com.