March of Dimes fights birth defects

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 13, 2002

Today, Steven Conradt is normal, healthy, bouncy 14-month-old baby who laughs and gurgles and calls everything "dada."

Last February, though, he was born 10 weeks early and weighed only 2 pounds, 14 ounces. He was so small, his head was barely larger than a standard-sized baseball. Had he been born 20 years ago, he probably would not have lived.

However, thanks in part to the efforts of the March of Dimes, medical science has advanced so much that most premature, low birth weight babies have a much better chance of making it.

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Steven's success story has brought the tyke a certain amount of fame and has made him the March of Dimes' Austin youth ambassador of 2002.

Carla, Steven's mother, explains that while she was pregnant with Steven, she developed a condition called "pre-eclampsia," which is a maternal condition characterized by high blood pressure and the swelling of internal organs.

Carla says "when I was at 28 weeks, I was put on total bed rest for two weeks, but then I became very ill and the doctors made the decision to take him (via Caesarean section.)"

"They always say 10 weeks (before birth) is such a critical time for development. Statistics show a real dramatic difference, especially in the development of babies born before and after the 30-week mark. Steven was 30-1/2 weeks when he was born; we were lucky to have made that," Dan, Steven's father, says.

Steven was born at Methodist Hospital in Rochester, but then spent a few days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester before going back to Methodist Hospital, where he spent five weeks in an incubator.

"When we brought him home March 8, he weighed 4 lbs., 4 oz. and it was still a month before his due date," Dan says.

Dan and Carla say Steven is where he should be developmentally, though he hasn't quite started walking yet. "He's still a furniture walker. I think most babies are walking at 14 months, but it can be such an individual thing. But, if there's anything he's behind in, it's that," Dan says.

"He was healthy from the time he was born, he was just little," Carla says. "His start was a much healthier one than other premature babies."

But because Steven needed special monitoring and feeding equipment during his first weeks, he was considered a "special needs" baby. That, combined with the success of his hospital stay, made him a perfect candidate for Austin's March of Dimes youth ambassador.

Randy Kramer, a committee member of the March of Dimes, approached the Conradts with the idea of having Steven be the youth ambassador, because "they have quite a story to tell. Every year we look for a local case of someone with a premature baby or a low birth weight baby because that is something the March of Dimes tries to prevent. We look for someone who is a very good example of how the March of Dimes funded research so when something like this happens, people make it in cases where years ago, they may not have."

As the family of the youth ambassador, Dan says "our rose is kind of to bring attention to the fact that in the last generation, a lot of medical advances have been and the money the March of Dimes has made has done a lot to further research to meet the needs of special children."

Since Dan has been the news director at KAUS for 22 years and Carla has been a news reporter at KAAL-TV for 13 years, Kramer says "an added bonus (of the Conradts being the family of the youth ambassador) is that it is a case of well-known, visible people in the community. In a way, that brings more attention to us when we have somebody who is 'locally famous.'"

One of their duties as the family of the youth ambassador is to participate in WalkAmerica, the March of Dimes walk-a-thon on April 20. Kramer says the walk is "the largest March of Dimes fundraiser of the year. Here in Austin, we broke the $30,000 mark last year. Over the last 10 years, we've grown from raising $8,000 to $10,000 to more than $30,000 and we want to keep going up."

Kramer says "the money raised goes to fight birth defects, either through grants for research or public awareness campaigns."

That research includes improving the equipment needed to help premature babies, such as Steven. "The March of Dimes is a marvelous organization and they really do so much for special needs babies," Carla says.

The six-mile WalkAmerica will take place April 20. The route will start and end at Torge's Live in the Holiday Inn. For more information, call 1-507-282-0649.

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at