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West Linn family chosen as March of Dime ambassadors

by: SUBMITTED - Amy Sandie holds hands with Elsa Sandie, one of her  twins who  was born  27 weeks premature  in 2006.Amy Sandie was sitting at her kitchen table on a wet, dreary Friday afternoon when her 6-year-old daughter, Elsa, approached with a precious memento placed atop her head.

Elsa’s twin brother, Liam, stared as the item fell to the table.

“It looks like a sock,” he said.

And it did — worn and discolored more than six years after it was last used. Yet Elsa was wearing it correctly when she approached the table. This was not a sock, but rather the very same hat that both she and Liam wore atop their heads when they wore born at a dangerously premature date back in 2006, not even 3 pounds apiece.by: VERN UYETAKE -  Amy Sandie and her children, from left, Mara, Liam and Elsa, are ambassadors for March of Dimes.

Sandie will never forget that time, when the very lives of her newborn twins were at risk. Items like the hat remain as physical reminders, but the most visceral moments are ingrained deep within her — the emergency C-section that put her in the intensive care unit and kept her from meeting the twins until the next day; arriving at the hospital after a night at home and being told Elsa needed two unexpected blood transfusions while she and her husband, Scott, were gone; having Liam on a special ventilator awaiting surgery; and watching as “his little chest would rise like a hummingbird.”

No one — not even the doctors at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland — knew exactly how this would end. They didn’t know that both Liam and Elsa would go on to make full recoveries, that the 2.5-pound babies would one day reach the 85th percentile in height and weight and plan to make school presentations about their own perilous experience as newborns.

And Sandie didn’t know that six years after first consulting the March of Dimes website in a frenzied search for answers, her family would now be named one of Oregon’s four official ambassadors for the organization. A story that could have ended tragically instead became a moment of triumph and hope.

Now, it’s the Sandies’ job to pass that hope along to others.

“(We’re) sharing our story about their births and how the March of Dimes has helped us,” Sandie said. “And how we march every year in honor of them and how far they’ve come, and to promote more awareness about the need for continued funding for research to prevent premature births such as theirs.”

For the fifth time in six years, Team Sandie will take part in the annual March for Babies walk in Portland on April 27. But this time, as ambassadors, the Sandies will also be doing some extra fundraising in the weeks leading up to the walk. March of Dimes aims to raise $1.2 million this year in Oregon and Southwest Washington alone, and that won’t happen without extra effort from families like the Sandies.

Burgerville in West Linn will host the first fundraiser, on March 19, a “dine-in, dine-out” in which the restaurant will donate 10 percent of its profits between 5 and 8 p.m. directly to Team Sandie.

The Sandies will also host an event at the Fit For Life exercise center, where on April 6 they will offer two hours of a nonstop Zumba workout for a $10 donation.

The money will be used to improve upon March of Dimes’ already impressive record in Oregon. The state earned an “A” grade on the March of Dimes 2012 Preterm Birth Report Card, as preterm birth rates continue to decline in Oregon and the United States as a whole.

Yet there is always more research to be done, more advocacies to be made. The causes of preterm births are only partially clear, and it remains the No. 1 killer of newborns in the United States.

“In the state of Oregon alone, March of Dimes is spending a million dollars of research money,” Sandie said. “And a lot of it’s focusing on premature births and brain development issues and growth issues for fetal and baby growth issues.”by: VERN UYETAKE - From left, Elsa, Amy, Liam and Mara Sandie show their March of Dimes pride. They are participating in fundraising for March of Dimes.

Harrowing as the twins’ births may have been, Sandie has come to realize that her family was very lucky. Liam and Elsa were born with respiratory distress syndrome — which causes difficulty breathing — while also suffering minor brain bleeding and another lung problem called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Complications from the latter condition were what prompted Liam’s surgery.

But the twins, along with the Sandies’ oldest daughter, Mara — who was also born premature, with far fewer complications — managed to avoid conditions such as severe brain bleeding and a common digestive condition called necrotizing enterocolitis that typically cause more long-term issues.

“We were fortunate enough that they escaped a few of the conditions that very young premies sometimes face,” Sandie said. “But they had feeding tubes, apnea, alarms going off because they stopped breathing. It was really challenging.”

It took a total of 63 days for Elsa to be sent home, and 69 for Liam. And even then, the Sandies were forced to turn their home into a de facto hospital, posting signs on the door that read, “If you’ve been sick in the last two weeks, you can’t come in.”

“I kind of became a germaphobe,” Sandie said with a laugh.

After about a year, the twins began an early intervention program that included occupational, speech and physical therapy, as well as some educational services. By age 3, their progress was such that they no longer qualified for the services and graduated.

“(That) was a very happy day for us,” Sandie said. “(We) started them in preschool. They did two years of preschool, and (when) I would tell teachers they were three months premature and they had a host of medical problems, they would look at me like, ‘No way.’”by: SUBMITTED - Born prematurely, Liam Sandie rests in the Providence St. Vincent Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with the help of ear protectors.

When Sandie left her kitchen table last Friday, it was to play mediator between her three lively, healthy children in the other room. A few minutes later, Liam was asked what he was most excited about as a March of Dimes ambassador and offered a very typical young boy’s answer: “Going on TV.”

“I like to go on the big walk,” Elsa added. “I like walking.”

The Sandies will walk, fundraise and speak out over the next two months to give other families hope for this normal, fruitful life.

“My husband and I and our family, we just think it’s really important to give back to the community, too,” Sandie said. “And this is one way we feel we can — just supporting moms and babies.”

To join a team or donate, visit marchforbabies.org. The Sandies can be found by searching Team Sandie.