Since their first “March for Babies” in 2012, the Vassiliou family, of Plantsville, has raised nearly $17,000 for the March of Dimes. Nick and Susan, along with sons, Nikolaos, 2, and Michael, 9 months, anchor a fundraising campaign known as “Eleni’s Team.”
This year, the Plantsville family has been asked to serve as ambassadors for the annual event which serves thousands from the Greater Hartford area. On Sunday, May 1, the family will lead the festivities at the 2016 March for Babies event in East Hartford.
They will thank walkers for their commitment to the March of Dimes mission to give all babies a healthy start, and resume their walk in memory of their daughter, Eleni.
In January 2012, Susan and Nik were looking forward to the birth of their baby, and 19 weeks into the pregnancy they went to the doctor for a routine checkup and ultrasound. Instead, testing revealed that their daughter had Turner Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality in females caused by complete or partial absence of the second sex chromosome. This condition occurs in about 1 in 2,500 newborn girls worldwide, but it is much more common among pregnancies that do not survive to term (miscarriages and stillbirths).
Just days after the initial diagnosis, Eleni was delivered stillborn at Middlesex Hospital.
“I never imagined that anything like this could happen to me. From everything that you read and learn, you assume that after you complete your first trimester you are going to have a healthy, happy baby,” said Susan in a March of Dimes press release. “Through everything I never asked myself, why me? The truth is, why not me? As I came to learn, babies become sick all too often.”
According to numbers compiled by the March of Dimes, more than 36,000 babies are born in Connecticut each year, but one in 10 are born too soon. One in seven infant deaths is attributed to a birth defect, and nearly 200 babies die before reaching their first birthday.
The mission of the March of Dimes is to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality through research, education, advocacy and community programs.
After their loss, the Vassilious turned to the March of Dimes, looking for support and comfort. They ordered online materials about bereavement. They learned about the organization’s walk event, March for Babies, and decided to form a team in memory of Eleni.
“We found a way to memorialize our daughter. We don’t have a birthday for her, so for us, the March for Babies event is her birthday—a day when we can remember and have a whole day dedicated just to her,” said Susan. “I am so happy that our two sons will always be able to celebrate their sister, who they wouldn’t know as well without the March. The March provides an opportunity for them to see their sister is real and be a part of her life.”
March for Babies participants can meet the family and hear their story at March for Babies at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Sunday, May 1. Registration begins at 9 a.m. with the walk kicking off at 10 a.m. To register, visit marchforbabies.org/event/greaterhartford or marchofdimes.org/ct.
Prior to the walk, the March of Dimes will also host Run for Babies, a timed 5K. Runners of all levels, and those with running strollers are welcome. Registration is available online at runforbabies.org/Hartford. Cost is $30 prior to April 15. There will also be a kid’s fun run and all registered children will receive a superhero cape.
The event is designed to raise awareness and offer hope, and proceeds will benefit the ongoing efforts of the March of Dimes.
“I hope to be a positive influence to women, so that they do not have feel ashamed of their loss, whether it be a miscarriage or a stillbirth,” Susan said in the release. “I hope to show them that their loss is important in their lives and that they do not have to hide it or keep it a secret.”
Greater Hartford March for Babies is presented by Cigna, and sponsored by Aetna, KPMG, Ernst & Young, Pullman & Comley, LLC, Updike Kelly & Spellacy, PC, Bob’s Discount Furniture, NBC Connecticut, Lamar, Connecticut Parent Magazine, The Hartford Courant and kidtivity.com.