For many of us, the annual March for Babies is a chance to support an organization that works to end premature birth.  But when the three families profiled here join the march, they’ll be honoring the children who inspired them. Read on to learn how these Central Texas families discovered the March of Dimes and came to be among its most ardent allies.

2016: The Achariyakosol Family

As Rebecca and Art Achariyakosol join their sons Nick (5½) and Zach (3) to serve as this year’s March of Dimes ambassador family, it’s the boy who isn’t by their side that spurs them to support the organization each year.

Their son, Gabriel, died in 2012 of trisomy 13, a chromosomal condition that is almost always fatal. After a routine ultrasound at 20 weeks revealed that the baby’s development was not as expected, Rebecca underwent a series of tests.

“I did a lot of thinking and a lot of praying and a lot of talking to the baby,” she says of the days she spent waiting for results. Unfortunately, she learned at her next doctor’s appointment that her son had passed away in the womb. Soon after, Rebecca found herself checking in to the hospital to deliver a baby she knew she’d never take home.

The roller coaster of events that started a week and a half earlier with a regular checkup sadly concluded with a priest’s blessing and decisions about final arrangements. “We named him Gabriel,” Rebecca says. “Because he’s my angel.”

It was a deeply challenging time for the couple, and just as they prepared themselves mentally to leave the hospital with empty arms, a nurse handed Rebecca the thing she didn’t even know she needed: a memory box for Gabriel, courtesy of the March of Dimes. It contained photos of her son, baby clothes, a blanket and a heart necklace. “Having that to take home with me was really important,” says Rebecca. “Somebody thought of me, and somebody cared. Literally, every night, I would go through that box.”

The gesture was so important, in fact, that Rebecca was inspired immediately to raise funds in support of the organization that had helped her when she needed it most. “It was therapeutic to have something to do. I lost the baby in February, I started my team in March and the walk was in May,” says Rebecca. “Somehow, in a month and a half, I raised $6,500.” She’s been a faithful champion ever since.

“It’s not just for Gabriel anymore,” says Rebecca. “I like to say that all babies are March of Dimes babies. I have two healthy boys at home, and if it weren’t for the March of Dimes, they might not be healthy.”

2009: The Keating Family

The Keatings were the March of Dimes ambassador family in 2009. Parents Jackie and Andrew say their family is forever indebted to the March of Dimes. “We can’t say thanks enough,” says Jackie. “Because of research funded by the March of Dimes and specialized care they received at birth, our twin boys enjoy a happy, normal life.

We are blessed to have these smart, funny and kind boys in our life.” Now: Nine-year-old Chris likes to play soccer, read and play video games. In fact, he’d like to be a video game designer when he grows up. Every year, he looks forward to his family’s annual beach trip.

Like his twin brother, Ben enjoys playing sports, reading and playing video games. He says he’s good at math “because my teacher’s great and I pay attention to what she says.” He’d like to be a writer when he grows up.

Back then: Chris and Ben were born at 30 weeks and weighed 2 lb. 15 oz. and 3 lb. 12 oz., respectively. They spent 5 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“We learned to really cherish the times that we were holding our babies,” says Jackie. “In the beginning, we were only allowed to hold them once a day.”

2014: The Wadsworth Family

The Wadsworths served as the ambassador family in 2014. The March of Dimes provided parents Kelly and Tommy with a support system for dealing with the stresses of first having a premature baby and later a full-term baby born with a heart defect. “We made connections to other families that have become great friends,” says Kelly.

Now: Seven-year-old Jett plays lacrosse and soccer. If he could be a movie character, he’d choose Captain America.

Jett looks forward to the family’s Christmas trip to spend time with his grandparents. “He gives his all in everything he does,” says Kelly. “We are so proud of him.”

Three-year-old Cruz swims, plays soccer and loves to ride his bike. If he could be a video game character, he’d choose Luigi. Cruz enjoys the family’s summer trips to San Diego. “His concern for others and love for his family and friends is so pure,” says Kelly.

Back then: Jett was born at 30 weeks and weighed 3 lb. 3 oz. He spent 30 days in the NICU. Cruz was born full term and weighed 6 lb. 14 oz. He was born with ventricular septal defect, a heart condition, and bilateral clubfoot, a condition that required full leg casts and braces until he was 3 years old.

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