PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- When Chris and Vince Centofanti were expecting their second child, they thought they knew what they were getting into, that was until their daughter came along nine weeks early.
"Nina's birth was very unexpected, like most pre-term births are," explained Chris.
Chris was working as a nurse practitioner in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the time, and her husband marketed equipment like incubators to hospitals, so again they thought they knew what to expect, but they were wrong.
"It is the hardest thing in the world to leave your baby behind," said Chris. She struggled with the knowledge she had of all the different complications that could occur to a child born so premature, worrying herself into an emotional wreck as she watched her daughter fight for life.
"There are people out there that lifted me up when it was my turn. All of you nurses that do it, all of you nurse practitioners that do it, all of you doctors that do it, it is amazing. You guys are the best," she told the crowd of caregivers and March of Dimes supporters packed into a small conference room. "It is a success story because of all of you and the work that you do."
"When Nina came along, you know we got to 31 weeks and we still had two and a half months to go, and we were put in the position where there is no choice, you have to deliver your baby," explained Vince. "We knew there would be major risks bringing her into the world two and a half months early."
"The biggest thing for us was you can't hold your baby," he recalled as he thought about the hours spent waiting and watching as his daughter grew stronger. "You can't be a parent the way you normally would to a full-term baby or a healthy baby and you certainly can't take them home, so it was a long five weeks for us."
Now a happy and healthy eight year old, Nina is the 2013 national ambassador for the March of Dimes, traveling from state to state with her mom, dad, older brother, and younger sister to tell people about the work being done by the nonprofit which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
"Medicine and technology has done remarkable things to help babies survive, but the real next step is to find solutions and answers why this happens in the first place," Vince said. "There's no answers. We don't have answers at this point to know why babies are born prematurely. We don't have answers to know how to keep them healthy and full term."
The Centofantis say through continued support of the March of Dimes researchers are finding answers that will help prevent premature births in the future. In Maine, which has one of the lowest premature birth rates in the country, roughly one in ten children is born premature.
"Our outcome was fantastic, and most of you that work in the NICU know, those outcomes aren't always the case," said Chris. "I am very aware of the fact that we are very lucky, and we are very blessed that we have an eight year old daughter that has had the course that she has had."
"We need to support research funding and advocacy, so that every single baby has a kind of start at life that Nina didn't get," she added. "That maybe they all can be born healthy, and term, and they get to go home and no mom has to know the pain and the suffering of leaving a baby behind."
The March for Babies is the biggest fundraising event of the year for the March of Dimes. In the greater Portland area, the March for Babies begins at Cheverus High School on May 5th. Registration starts at 8am and the walk around Back Cove begins at 9am.