By Ed Brock
To look at 19-month-old Vania Butler today, it's impossible to tell that she almost died before she could begin living.
Born when her mother Varndura Butler was only six months pregnant, Vania weighed two pounds and two ounces when she entered the world.
"They took my class ring when she was born and put it over her hand and slipped it up her arm to her shoulder," said Vania's father Vinson Butler.
Now Vania weighs in at 22 pounds, the normal weight for a 19-month-old.
The Butlers, who live in Jonesboro, are this year's South Metro March of Dimes "Ambassador Family" for Clayton County. They represent the success of the March of Dimes' efforts to fund research and treatments for premature babies like Vania.
As the March of Dimes continues to gather donations and prepare for its "WalkAmerica" fundraiser scheduled for April 24 at Starr Park in Forest Park, the Butlers, primarily Varndura Butler and Vania, have been appearing at various events, with mom telling their story.
At 11 a.m. on July 27, 2002, Varndura Butler's water broke while she was getting ready to go somewhere with her mother. None of the seven children she had had before had been born premature, so she was shocked. Despite all that the doctors did to try to prevent the birth, Vania was born while Vinson Butler had slipped home for a shower.
"She just was ready to get here," Varndura Butler said. "Even now she thinks she's going to miss something. She stays up late as she can with her dad."
The prognosis for Vania was not good and she spent the first weeks of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at DeKalb Medical Center. Today she is happy and healthy, quick to smile and loves to play with her father's 2?-year-old Rottweiler Zeus.
That is thanks in part to the efforts of the March of Dimes, the Butlers said.
"The technology they funded makes it possible for ?premies' (premature babies) to make it," Varndura Butler said.
About 100 teams are working in Clayton County to drum up more money for this year's WalkAmerica, March of Dimes spokeswoman Heather Scheftel said. The March of Dimes goal is to raise $275,000 in the south metro area.
Tuesday is "bank day," Scheftel said, the day when the teams will bring in the money they've raised so far and tally it up to see how close they are to that goal. Other events have also been held so far, such as the "Mile of Dimes" fundraiser at Forest Park High School that was held two weeks ago.
That fundraiser did well, but Scheftel said they are thinking about holding it in conjunction with the school's homecoming next year.
"I think that would be a good way to draw attention to it," Scheftel said.
WalkAmerica, in which the teams are sponsored to spend the day walking a three-mile course around Forest Park, starts at 9 a.m. Kiwanis Club members like Lou Hisel will be at the park to provide food and incentives like caps and T-shirts and to man refreshment tables along the route.
"It is the largest (Kiwanis) division-wide project," Hisel said, adding the event has been going on for about 40 years.
Scheftel said people interested in joining the walk or just making donations should call (404) 350-9800 or just show up on the day of the walk and bring some money. People who raise $100 for the cause get a WalkAmerica T-shirt. The high figure shouldn't discourage anybody, Scheftel said.
"It's all for the babies," Scheftel said. "It's a very attainable goal."