Alex Woolly, an eighth grader at Plainview Middle School, has a very personal reason for helping raise awareness about premature births — her little brother, Aftyn, was one of those babies who was born too early.

 


Alex Woolly, an eighth grader at Plainview Middle School, has a very personal reason for helping raise awareness about premature births — her little brother, Aftyn, was one of those babies who was born too early.

 

Each year, nearly 13 million babies are born prematurely, and that number has been rising for the past several decades. In the United States, premature births have risen about 40 percent since 1980. And pre-term birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the country.

 

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, premature births impact more than one in eight Oklahoma families. Pre-term infants face an increased risk of lifelong health issues including breathing problems, cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.

 

Six years ago, Aftyn was born seven weeks early at Mercy Memorial Health Center, and his tiny lungs were not fully developed. He was airlifted to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa that same day to keep him alive. Aftyn spent his first three days on a ventilator and eventually stayed three and a half weeks in the Tulsa hospital. Alex stayed with relatives in Ardmore while her parents, Brice and Melissa, were in Tulsa with her new baby brother.

 

Alex said she was very relieved when the day finally arrived for Aftyn to come home for the first time. Since then, she has played an active role in caring for her brother, who today is a 6-year-old kindergarten student at Plainview Primary School.

 

Unlike a lot of pre-term babies who survive neonatal intensive care only to experience a range of serious health problems as they grow older, Aftyn is an active little boy with only a few minor health issues — allergies and a little asthma.

 

“He’s very energetic,” she said. “He’s sometimes annoying, but you’ve got to love him.”

 

When Alex heard about March of Dimes Prematurity Awareness Day, she wanted to do something special in honor of her little brother’s healthy life. Alex got approximately 100 purple Awareness Day bracelets from the local March of Dimes office and passed them out to her classmates and teachers, telling each of them Aftyn’s story.

 

“They were actually really excited to get them, even the boys,” she said. “They thought it was really cool.”

 

Hundreds of local volunteers raise money for the March of Dimes by participating in the March for Babies. Earlier this year, participants collected $197,556 to support the March of Dimes.

 

Steve Biehn, 221-6546