Office of the Governor Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry's Remarks At The March Of Dimes

*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004  •  Speech

Thank you so much Melissa (Melissa Gale, KVUE) for that kind introduction.  It is good to be with so many individuals working to build a healthier Texas.  Commissioner Hawkins, Dr. Sanchez, Dr. Smith, James and Patty Huffines, Paula Ransom and the entire extraordinary team with the March of Dimes, you are all to be commended for your efforts on behalf of all Texans, but particularly our children.  I want to pass along greetings from the March of Dimes’ National Chair for Childhood Immunizations , the First Lady of Texas, Anita Perry. 

I think often of the day Anita and I realized the immense blessing of parenthood, an experience many in this audience can certainly relate to.  Nine months of anticipation lead up to that one moment when you get your first look at that newborn child, the flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone.  They breathe their first breath, and 60 seconds after they are born their first Apgar score is taken.  They go down to the nursery for that first examination.  Their footprints are taken, and they are weighed and measured, so mom can prove to the doctor once and for all that that baby was a lot bigger than the sonogram seemed to indicate.  They get their first bath and get outfitted in their very first diaper.  You talk to them and whisper to them as they wrap their entire hand around your finger.  And in between your tears of joy and their tears of anger, you realize a tremendous journey has just begun.

Imagine this same scenario, except your child is born several weeks, or months, early.  They can hardly stay awake to eat.  Their lungs are not fully developed, causing serious breathing problems.  They may have bleeding in the brain, or damaged eyes.  And while you live in the greatest nation in the world, with the greatest medicine known to humankind, you face each moment not knowing what the future holds. 

Prematurity is a traumatic experience that becomes a new reality for 135 Texas families every day, and 49,000 Texas families every year.  Because of advances in medicine, there are many success stories of premature babies turning out healthy.  And yet, about 25 percent of the youngest and smallest babies will live the rest of their lives with long-term health problems like blindness and cerebral palsy.  There is no greater joy in life than the birth of a child.  But for 49,000 families each year, those feelings of joy are complicated by feelings of tremendous distress and fear of the unknown.

Prematurity touches their lives in the most agonizing way, but it touches the lives of all of us because every child is precious.  Prematurity is also the most common and costly problem affecting infants in America today.  The average hospital charge for a newborn without complications is $1,300.  The cost of hospital stays for premature babies is more than 50 times that amount, averaging $75,000 per child.  Thirteen percent of Texas babies are born too early, representing 10 percent of the nation’s total of premature births.  That is why the March of Dimes’ efforts are so vital. 

The March of Dimes is on the front lines of the effort to not only treat the complications of premature birth, but to fund the research needed to prevent it.  This storied charitable organization has spent more than 60 years making a difference.  Among its many accomplishments, the March of Dimes helped wipe out polio in the last century, has educated women about folic acid intake to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, and has built a widespread childhood immunization campaign so children are not only born healthy, but remain healthy as they grow.  The heart of their mission is giving children hope by ensuring they have good health. 

The First Lady and I are committed to the March of Dimes Prematurity Campaign, and we hope you, too, will offer your time, talent and treasure to this great cause.  Every child born into this world bears the imprint of our Divine Creator, and the hopes of all humankind.  Long before they utter their first words, or crack that first smile, they need as much love, support and attention as we can provide, and none more than children born prematurely.

If you think about it, those tiny diapers displayed on your table today are made for the littlest among us, but by no means can we say their potential is small.  We have big dreams for every child born in Texas to grow up healthy, to get a good education, to live a life of prosperity and opportunity, and to leave a lasting imprint on this world.  It all starts with the moment they are born.  We MUST turn the tide on prematurity in Texas.  We MUST advance the cause of medicine with leading research that can help us prevent the complications associated with prematurity, and ensure more babies are born full-term.  We MUST provide tremendous support for this tremendous cause. 

Please join the March of Dimes in the fight against prematurity.  Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the children of Texas.

Please join me in welcoming an extraordinary public servant who served as Cabinet Secretary to President Bush, as well as his budget director during his gubernatorial administration, before agreeing to serve as the Health and Human Services Commissioner for the State of Texas, Albert Hawkins.

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