"It's all about the babies," said Gena Plummer, bundling her early Mother's Day gift, 3-week-old daughter, Kaitlynn, in a blanket as she prepared for the March of Dimes Walk America 2005 at the state Capitol Grounds early Saturday morning.
Peeking out from under an "I Love Daddy" beanie, Kaitlynn opens her eyes, moves her tiny fingers through the air, decides she's seen enough for now and falls back asleep.
Plummer's mother, Linda Martin, is also walking, getting a chance to spend some quality time with her new granddaughter.
Although Kaitlynn and Plummer's 7-year-old son, Anthony, were both born happy and healthy, the March of Dimes reports that nearly 500,000 babies are born prematurely every year.
Casey Gillham, division director for the charity, says a mother-to-be can do everything right - get good prenatal care and regular check-ups, but still have problems and complications.
"Premature babies are more likely to have birth defects and health problems later in life," he says. "In fact, pre-term birth is the leading cause of death for newborns."
Gillham says that premature birth is actually on the rise in America, increasing about 13 percent in the last decade.
"We've managed to figure out the cause of premature births in about one-third of the cases," he says. "As for figuring out the rest .... " he sweeps his palm around in a broad circle, indicating the nearly 250 walkers who've come out for the five-mile walk to raise money for research. "That's what we're trying to do here today."
Gillham says between the Reno walk held last week and the Carson City walk held Saturday, he expects to raise upwards of $200,000 for the charity.
Of course, it's not just mothers who are affected by the stresses of premature birth. K-BULL 98 FM's JJ Christy was broadcasting for the event but also shared the story of his 2-year-old daughter who was born 26 weeks early.
"My wife was one of those mothers who did everything right," he said. "She followed the book."
Weighing just over two pounds at birth, Christy's daughter spent 90 days in the Intensive Care Unit.
Now that his daughter has gone through the worst of it, Christy says his favorite activity is reading her bedtime stories.
"It's hard to explain to anyone who has never gone through something like that," he said after switching on the walk's official starting music, Dire Straits' "Walk of Life."
Somewhere around the second mile of the walk, Gena Plummer and mother, Linda Martin, discuss their Mother's Day plans. They're going to a casino buffet.
Little Kaitlynn sleeps in her grandmother's arms while Anthony bounds along the side of the road playing with sticks and tossing rocks. When asked, he closes his eyes and makes a face, quickly denying that he's going to give his mom a hug and a kiss for Mother's Day.
After that, Gena says she's heading up to Oregon to visit her terminally ill father, to give him a chance to spend some time with Kaitlynn.
"Every time I look at her I see him," she says, holding nothing back in her smile.
"Children really are God's blessing. As He takes away, He gives another."
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.