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COLUMBIA -Columbia will host the March of Dimes March for Babies at Stephens Lake Park at 1:30 on Sunday, May 3. The March of Dimes raises money to prevent preterm labor and improve care and research for premature babies.

Parents like John and Melissa Sisler benefit from the research to help babies born early. The Sisler's son, Courtland, came unexpectedly two months before his due date.

"As I was leaving my baby shower my water broke," Melissa Sisler said. "Very scared because I knew he was two months early, but I knew being a nurse just get to the hospital and they would do what they needed to do."

Courtland suffered from head trauma and strokes. It's been a long six weeks of round the clock care in the neonatal intesive unit at University of Missouri Health Care's Women's and Children's Hospital, but so far he's doing well.

"His progress has been amazing. He wasn't able to move his left side when he was born, and now he can move all arms and legs," Melissa said.

Doctors say the outcomes for premature babies like Courtland have improved dramatically in the last few decades, partly because of research funded by March of Dimes.

"Surfactant is a protein that our lungs make all the time, but the more premature you are you don't make enough of it," says University Hospital NICU director Dr. John Pardalos. "So when you're born premature, your lungs kind of get stuck together when you let all the air out so the baby struggles to take that next breath. Now, with surfactant therapy we can give them artificial surfactant for the first 24 hours until their little lungs can start making their own, and that research was funded by the March of Dimes."

In 1990, a baby born at 28 weeks had a 50% chance of survival. Today that same child has a 90% chance. The Sislers say having a child in the NICU is still a very difficult time for parents, but knowing how far medicine has come can make a stressful time a little easier.