Oklahoman named March of Dimes National Ambassador

Wednesday, July 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A 6-year-old Oklahoma girl who endured five brain surgeries before her first birthday has been named the 2003 National Ambassador Child for the March of Dimes.

Emma Henderson of Edmond was given a one in 10 chance of survival when she was born. Now, the March of Dimes will tell her story nationwide as it seeks to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality.

Emma and her parents, Jeff and Susan Henderson, will travel across the nation to raise public awareness about premature births.

Emma was born three months premature. She weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces and was 13 inches long at birth. She spent the first 101 days of her life at Integris Baptist Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit.

She underwent numerous surgeries on her brain, lungs and eyes, and has a permanent shunt in her head that drains fluid from her brain.

Emma can see, but she has no peripheral vision. Her premature birth affected her growth and motor skills.

Emma's mother said it will be difficult to relive the story of Emma's birth but that it will give hope and inspire others whose children are born prematurely.

``It forces us to remember those days, but it also makes us so profoundly grateful for the miracle of life and the miracle we have in our daughter,'' Mrs. Henderson said.

About 467,000 babies, one in eight, are born prematurely every year in the United States, and nearly 6,000 are born prematurely each year in Oklahoma, the March of Dimes said.

``Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death, and many of the babies who do survive face serious long-term consequences,'' said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes.

``Fortunately, Emma has already overcome tremendous odds, but she and her family still cope every day with the residual effects of her premature birth.''

Emma was chosen to be Oklahoma Ambassador Child in May and nominated to be the National Ambassador Child.

Mrs. Henderson became a volunteer for the March of Dimes before Emma's birth. She took a tour of the neonatal intensive care unit at Integris Baptist Medical Center two years before her daughter stayed there.

She said her work helped her deal with the things that Emma was going through.

``As hard as that was, it was helpful to lie there in my bed and remember the tour that I had had just two years earlier,'' Susan Henderson said. ``I knew they were doing all the work that they could to save her life.''

The Hendersons will appear with celebrities through the ambassador program, but Mrs. Henderson said the family is most excited about meeting President Bush and taking a tour of the White House.

``She is thrilled,'' Henderson said. ``She is excited about traveling and staying in hotels.''