- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A South Union Township girl who was born premature is giving back to her community by serving as the March of Dimes 2015 Fayette County Ambassador.

Sophia Spiker, 2, and her parents Jeff and Cristi Spiker are sharing their story to call attention to the March of Dimes’ upcoming March for Babies on April 18 at Mount St. Macrina, located along Route 40 just west of Uniontown. Registration is at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m.

Long-time supporters of the event, the Spikers are in their second year with the team Sophia’s Soldiers from Fayette County WOW, which stands for Working on Wellness, a program that helps county employees stay fit. Cristi Spiker works in the human resources department at the Fayette County Courthouse.

“My biggest thing,” said Cristi Spiker of the March for Babies, “is just looking at all the people who come to raise money for a great cause - all those people who came to help my little girl. Thank God for the research of the March of Dimes. I want to give each one a hug and say ‘You’re awesome!’”

The arrival of Sophia Spiker into this world was an emotional time for her parents. She was born 11 weeks premature on May 29, 2012, just two weeks and a day after Cristi Spiker learned she was pregnant. Sophia Spiker suffered from respiratory distress, a brain bleed and spent her first five weeks fighting for life in a newborn intensive care unit.

“How can the happiest time of your life be the most horrible?” asked Cristi Spiker.

“I was scared for her, scared for the baby,” remembered Jeff Spiker. “I was terrified that something would happen to either one or both of them.”

Cristi Spiker discovered she was pregnant from routine blood work performed when she was scheduled to undergo carpal tunnel surgery.

“I didn’t know I was pregnant until I was 27 weeks. I was 41 years old,” said Cristi Spiker, who said she had no symptoms but experienced anxiety after being told she was pregnant. “Fear was probably my strongest emotion because of my age and not having had any prenatal care. Once it sank in, it was complete joy.”

This was the first child for Cristi Spiker, who has been married 16 years to Jeff Spiker, 47, who also has a 22-year-old son, Logan Spiker, from a previous marriage.

For two weeks after discovering she was pregnant, Cristi Spiker was treated for elevated blood pressure but felt fine until she began vomiting and went to Uniontown Hospital on May 29. High blood pressure led to an emergency caesarean section. Staff from Magee Women’s Hospital arrived to take Sophia Spiker, who weighed two pounds, 15 ounces at birth, immediately to the Pittsburgh hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“I never had the chance to see or hold her,” Cristi Spiker said.

Jeff Spiker found himself traveling between two hospitals to be with his wife and daughter as Cristi Spiker went home but was then readmitted from complications to Uniontown Hospital for nine days while Sophia Spiker spent five weeks at Magee.

“Once I was out of the hospital, we visited Sophia every day,” said Cristi Spiker. “At first, it was scary to be a parent and see your baby in an incubator with all those wires. It’s gut wrenching. The first time I got to hold her, I started crying, but it was the best day of my life.”

As Sophia Spiker was being taken care of by staff at Magee, she was also benefiting from the efforts of the March of Dimes.

William Long, community director for the West Penn Division of the March of Dimes, said, “All newborns have testing due to the advocacy of the March of Dimes. It’s far reaching.”

The March of Dimes reports, “Four million babies were born in the United States last year, and the March of Dimes helped every one through more than 75 years of research, education, vaccines and breakthroughs.”

Long said the March of Dimes funds positions, such as a full-time social worker at Magee’s NICU, who worked with the Spikers when their daughter was hospitalized.

“She was our guiding light every step of the way,” said Jeff Spiker. “She kept us up on Sophia’s progress and the milestones she needed to accomplish before going home.”

Cristi Spiker said, “They help reassure you and give you a feeling of hope and confidence that everything is being done for the best of your child.”

Long said the mission of the March of Dimes is to “help moms have full-term pregnancies and research the problems that threaten the health of babies.”

According to the March of Dimes, about 450,000 babies are born premature in the United States each year. It is the leading cause of newborn death and babies who survive an early birth often face an increased risk of a lifetime of health challenges. The organization said this is a serious health problem that costs the United States more than $26 billion annually.

Sophia Spiker’s story has a happy ending. Her brain hemorrhage healed and her parents report she is doing fine. This Daddy’s girl is looking forward to visiting Sesame Place for her third birthday in May.

“She likes pink. She loves anything that challenges her mind. She is such a pleasant, outgoing little girl,” said Cristi Spiker. “She lights up any room she walks into.”

Long hopes to continue the success of last year’s walk, which raised almost $52,000 for the March of Dimes.

The Spikers have long been backers of the March for Dimes. Cristi Spiker said she had been affiliated with the March for Babies for 25 years while working for Kmart and has also found support at the courthouse.

Cristi and Jeff Spiker noted those involved in the March of Dimes sustain each other.

“It’s almost like a big family,” said Jeff Spiker.

Cristi Spiker said, “I always had compassion and a special place in my heart for the March of Dimes, never knowing I would be the mother of a premature baby.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1CziNGE

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Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/

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