News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 6, 2013

March of Dimes marks its 75th anniversary

Several Valley families can attest to benefits of organization

TERRE HAUTE — From polio to premature births, one organization has come to be known for its life-saving achievements and the help and hope it’s given to families nationwide.

That organization, the March of Dimes, has reached a milepost this year, marking its 75th anniversary in 2013.

Leaders of the Wabash Valley chapter of the non-profit organization celebrated locally on Jan. 3, when Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett proclaimed it March of Dimes 75th Anniversary Day.

“Throughout its history, the March of Dimes has supported many important research milestones that have benefited newborn and child health,” said Nikki Simpson, Wabash Valley Division director of March of Dimes, during the ceremony at City Hall.

“For example, in 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick identified the double helix structure of DNA, announcing, ‘We have found the secret of life.’ Watson had received a grant from the March of Dimes that helped support his research on ‘protein patterns.’ The team’s work won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and paved the way for modern genetic medicine, including the mapping of the human genome.”

Another research breakthrough came in the early 1960s, when Dr. Robert Guthrie — supported by a grant from the March of Dimes — developed the first screening test for PKU, or phenylketonuria. That discovery resulted in prevention of intellectual disabilities caused by PKU through diet.

Since then, the March of Dimes and supporters have campaigned for expanded newborn screening. Today, every baby born in the U.S. receives screening for dozens of conditions that could cause catastrophic health problems or death, if not detected and treated promptly at birth. Indiana now screens for 46 conditions.

Early days

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, affected by polio himself, established a foundation in 1938 to “lead, direct and unify” the fight against polio. In FDR’s day, polio was an epidemic disease. The March of Dimes got its name when comedian Eddie Cantor asked Americans to send their dimes to FDR at the White House to help defeat polio.

Since its founding, research has been a key strategy that led to many new treatments for polio. These days, the organization is working to prevent the epidemic of premature birth, which affects nearly a half-million babies each year.

Several families in the Wabash Valley can attest to the benefits they have received through the research and fundraising efforts of the March of Dimes, from its early days to today’s new families.

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