Motorists traveling on Main Street the last two weeks may have noticed 47 pastel-colored baby-size T-shirts hanging on a clothesline in front of the library. Each shirt represents an infant who has died in McDuffie County in the last 10 years.
But families pushing their babies in strollers along Main Street Saturday morning signified steps to lower that number.
"I'm glad to see all these healthy babies here today," said Wanda Stewart, the keynote speaker at the Strolling for Babies Infant Mortality Awareness Event.
Because September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month, an event was held on the courthouse lawn in downtown Thomson. Educational materials addressing premature delivery, birth defects, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and car seat safety were distributed.
The number one reason of infant deaths is premature birth. Enterprise Community Healthy Start Initiative offers free programs, classes and services such as care by registered nurses for pregnant women, parental support groups, childbirth preparation classes, adult/infant CPR, women's health awareness, parenting classes and breastfeeding counseling. The program is available in McDuffie and Burke counties and is supported by various federal agencies.
"It's our belief if people are aware, they will take more precautions such as early prenatal care, infant safety, nutrition during pregnancy and nutrition for their babies," said Laura Tucker, one of the nurses at Healthy Start.
And that was the point of Ms. Stewart's speech. She hoped awareness would help save one family from the pain she and her family went through when her son was stillborn 18 years ago.
"I did all the right things, but it wasn't meant to be," she said. "It was traumatic for me and his father. It was my mom's first grandbaby. So, we all grieved together."
Ms. Stewart went on to tell how she later had a healthy baby daughter, "who is 15 now, and keeps me busy."
Poor health before and during pregnancy greatly increases the risk of infant death, and for every infant who dies, thousands more suffer long-term ill health or defects, according to ECHSI literature.
Because McDuffie County's average infant mortality rate is more than double that of the nation's, Ms. Tucker said she was hoping more people would have participated in Saturday's event.
"We need to get the word out so they can be aware and do things to prevent future problems," she said.
After the speech, the families walked together down Main Street, carrying a banner and singing "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands," and "Jesus Loves the Little Children."
In Thomson, the Enterprise Community Healthy Start Initiative office is located on Hill Street in the IGA shopping center. Dr. Sandra Mobley serves as the director.
Ms. Tucker and Trudi Dunn are the registered nurses, Betty Burnette is patient advocate and Crystal Neal is research associate.
For more information, call 706-597-0364.