“There is direct, real-life correlation between what our family experienced and what this philanthropic effort provides.”
Nearly 1 in 10 babies is born prematurely in the U.S. each year. In 2014 Mark Turner's son, MJ (short for Mark Jacob), was one of them. “His journey was rough,” the NAP VP of Construction and Development says, recalling when his wife, Haley, went into labor 12 weeks early and delivered their baby boy at just 2 lbs. 15 oz.
MJ was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he faced multiple procedures: blood transfusions, hernia repair, daily intubations and ultimately a tracheostomy. “We were there morning, afternoon and night for 109 days,” Mark says.
It was during that time that the Turner family (they also have a 5-year-old daughter, Ava) came to learn about March of Dimes, and the foundation’s work to prevent premature birth and provide support to affected families. “Initially, we became involved because of our son, and it provided an avenue for us to understand and cope with what we were going through,” Mark explains. “But our commitment to the organization evolved. Now we do the March for Babies walk every year. And Haley often goes to the monthly meetings and talks about new fundraising opportunities and advocacy events.”
The Turners were even selected to be the 2016 Ambassador family for the Lee County March of Dimes chapter. “Being able to meet our son and hear about his health issues made our personal story real in a way that other people could understand,” Mark says. “We also got to know a lot of the people that support the cause locally. Publix is a top corporate sponsor for March of Dimes, and the Fort Myers NAP office has developed over 30 shopping centers with the grocer. They are always represented at the fundraisers, so it was great to get to know and network with them.”
NAP employees join Mark and his family on the walk each year and donate to the local chapter as well, but it’s how the Fort Myers office has offered support during the most difficult times that Mark values most. “There were doctor’s appointments every other day. There were emergencies. And they afforded me the time and flexibility to be able to attend to my child’s needs. It was just what you’d expect from any high caliber employer like North American.”
The last few years have proved challenging for MJ’s health, so the Turners have been traveling to Cincinnati to work with a specialized team at the children’s hospital there, where the little boy continues treatment for an airway condition. “NAP’s corporate headquarters are based in Cincinnati, and when we’ve been up there they’ve been fantastic about offering up resources while we’re there,” Mark says.
Today, at 3, MJ is a happy, thriving young boy. He still has a trach tube, but had his first successful airway reconstruction surgery last year, and will be continuing the process to have it removed. In the meantime, Mark and his family continue to share their story, spreading the March of Dimes mission. “We want people to understand the prevalence of prematurity, and the impact March of Dimes has on this fight for healthy babies,” Mark says.
“As a parent, I want MJ to know that all these people have helped support him and this organization, and we should be a part of that.”