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Avi Kae Johnson (left) with parents Nate and Missy and baby brother Kroix pose for a family photograph. After Avi Kae was born prematurely, the Johnsons have walked in the annual March for Babies event to help raise funds for pregnancy and baby health programs.

Local family to lead March for Babies walk

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When Avi Kae Johnson was born seven weeks prematurely, parents Missy and Nate Johnson were worried about their daughter's future.

"It was really frightening and surreal," Missy Johnson said. "At the time I wasn't sure what would happen."

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Avi Kae, who will start kindergarten in the fall, is now a happy and thriving kid. But not all children born prematurely are as lucky, so the Johnsons signed up to participate in March of Dimes' annual March for Babies event, held locally Sunday April 28 at Colvill Park.

"I found out about it going into Famous Footwear after Avi Kae was born," Missy Johnson said. After a clerk asked her if she wanted to donate to March of Dimes, she asked what the organization was all about.

The Johnsons formed Team Avi Kae the following year, and they have continued to walk in the March for Babies event ever since.

Now in their fourth year walking, the Johnsons were recognized by the Southeast Minnesota March of Dimes chapter as this year's ambassador family and leaders of the march.

"This was such a special honor," Missy Johnson said.

A national problem

More than 7,000 babies will be born prematurely in Minnesota this year, according to March of Dimes. Nationally, one in nine babies is born too soon.

"The impact is huge," said Pam Cook, community director of the Southeast Minnesota chapter of the March of Dimes. "Especially if you're one of those families affected by a premature birth."

Children born even a few weeks early are at risk of developing serious and lifelong disabilities, according to the March of Dimes. Premature birth is the leading cause of death for newborns.

March for Babies is organized by the March of Dimes to help fund pregnancy and newborn support programs in local communities, according to the group's website. The event has raised $2 billion since 1970.

March of Dimes is a national nonprofit organization that provides support, research and education for birth defects and premature birth. It is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

The organization was instrumental in combating polio and now is at the forefront of prenatal care, Cook said.

March for Babies in Red Wing starts 1 p.m. April 28 at Colvill Park. Registration begins at noon. To sign up or learn more, visit www.marchforbabies.org.

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Michael Brun
Michael Brun is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program. He has worked for the Republican Eagle since March 2013, covering county government, health and local events. 
(651) 301-7875
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