Charity walk hits home with family

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hope Smith described it as only a little accident.

The rear-ender, though, was enough for the 28-year-old LincolnCounty woman to start hemorrhaging and caused her to deliverdaughter Nealie three months early.

Nealie will mark 10 months Sunday, the day after a walk to raisemoney for March of Dimes. The organization’s mission is “to improvethe health of babies by preventing birth defects, prematurity andinfant mortality.”

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Saturday’s walk will be the first for March of Dimes inBrookhaven. The walk is scheduled for 10 a.m. with registration at9 a.m. and opening ceremonies at 9:45 a.m. at Brookhaven ExchangeClub Park.

Nealie Smith, who is serving as the poster child for theinaugural walk, was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) atthe University of Mississippi Medical Center from Dec. 17, 2004,through Feb. 2 of this year. Her mother recalled looking at Marchof Dimes materials while she and her husband, Toby, stayed at theRonald McDonald House during their daughter’s treatment.

“That’s all I did was read those books,” Smith said.

Funds raised through events such as the walk go to research intopreventing premature deliveries, public information and healthfairs and legislative advocacy efforts. Smith cited the importanceof the March of Dimes in helping to educate people about prematurebabies.

“We didn’t think about it previously until it happened to us,”Smith said.

For Saturday’s walk, Smith said the family has raised and turnedin over $2,400 through business sponsorships and fund-raisingactivities. She said family and friends will be wearing camouflage”Nealie’s Troops” T-shirts during the walk.

Nealie Smith, who has cerebral palsy, recently had to havesurgery to replace a shunt in her head. Also, she has therapy athome every day and has to go to Jackson every Tuesday foradditional physical therapy.

“If she’s awake, somebody’s got to be holding her,” Smithsaid.

Among the special equipment Nealie uses is a Bumbo chair.

“She can’t fall out of it,” Smith said. “And it teaches her tohold up her head.”

Also, Boppy head gear helps keep Nealie’s head straight, hermother said. The head gear addresses a reflex, which normally goesaway in six months, for children to turn their heads to theright.

“It hasn’t left her,” Smith said.

Nealie also must wear therapy gloves. The special gloves forceher to hold her thumb out away from the rest of her hand.

Smith said the prognosis for the future is unknown. She saidNealie may eventually be able to sit up by herself, but she wasunsure if she will be able to walk.

“(Doctors) didn’t give us much hope when we had her,” Smithsaid. “We’re just blessed to have her.”

Nealie is growing. She weighed 3 pounds at birth and now weighsmore than 13 pounds.

Toby Smith and Nealie’s older sister Marla, 3, also do theirpart to care for the girl.

“It get tough at times,” Toby Smith said, adding it is harder onhis wife than him. “Sometimes it’s three hours of sleep a night andthat’s it.”

Toby, who drives for McLane Southern, and Hope, who works forDuane Allred, said family, friends and fellow church members atPleasant Grove Baptist Church have been very supportive sinceNealie’s birth.

“I don’t think we could have made it without them,” Hope Smithsaid.

As they continue to care for Nealie, the Smiths are maintaininga positive outlook. Hope Smith said she has never asked why theaccident and Nealie’s premature birth happened to them.

“God didn’t give me any more than I can handle,” Smith said.

She said Nealie has already touched many lives.

“Nealie’s special, and I know everything happens for a reason,”Smith said. “I know he’s going to use her in a special way.”