By Laura de Leon
Brandon Oliver wears a silver promise ring strung onto a necklace that was given to him by his wife, Jennifer Oliver. The ring reminds him of the journey they have been through together.
Six years ago, the ring fit around his daughter’s tiny arm while she lay in an infant hospital bed at St. Luke′s Baptist Hospital.
When Madison Melissa Oliver was born premature to parents Brandon, 34, and Jennifer, 30, doctors said the baby had a 50 percent chance of survival. Remembering that day, Brandon said it didn’t seem possible. The idea of prematurity never cross his mind.
“It was such a shock,” Brandon, the university’s multimedia and web coordinator, said.
Fifteen weeks before Madison was due to come into the world, Jennifer went to the doctor’s office because she did not feel well. During a previous visit the young mother was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a condition most often characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure.
Recalling that day, Brandon said they wanted to make sure everything was okay. The office visit, he said, should have been a normal checkup. They were planning on leaving the same day. Instead, the doctor said they were going to be in the delivery room within 24 hours.
On August 28, 2006, Madison was born during Jennifer’s 25th week of pregnancy weighing 1 pound 7.6 ounces. She measured a mere 13.25 inches.
During those early days in the hospital, Brandon was able to place the ring over his daughter’s tiny fingers, then her wrist, and up onto her arm.
“We really saw how small she was,” he said.
Today Melissa Madison is bright, energetic and full of life. And her parents are reaching out to other families with premature babies to make sure they have the support they need.
Jennifer said she feels connected to other families that have been through similar situations in their lives. Although you could never change what has happened, she said, it’s important to have people in your life for support.
There’s really nothing I have to give but to share my experiences and be there for others, she said.
Their story received local recognition when the Oliver family was selected to be the 2013 Ambassador Family for the March for Babies-San Antonio.
As the ambassador family for the March for Babies they also make local media appearances. A video was produced about baby Madison and her parents. Brandon explained that this year they are “the poster family” for the March for Babies.
“It’s all about bringing awareness,” Brandon said.
The family has been involved in the March for Babies foundation since Madison’s birth and they volunteer their time for the cause. Encouraged to apply for the March for Babies Ambassador Family, they have been rewarded by the chance to help others. Today, Brandon sits on the revenue leader board and Jennifer is on the family team committee board.
The Oliver family plans events around the city for The March of Dimes that help save babies’ lives.
A Loteria event, a bake sale, a lemonade stand and a gelato parlor where pro wrestlers made an appearance are a few events Brandon said his family organized that brought in donations for the cause.
One event that took place on April 25 was a Grease sing-along at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. We get 100 percent of the sales minus the cinema rental fee, he said. Brandon said they had a great turnout estimating an attendance of 30.
The March of Dimes hosts two events each year; one is the March for Babies and the other is a signature chefs auction and tasting event.
Mariah Arispe, community director for March of Dimes-San Antonio, said the organization selects a family annually to represent each event. These families, she said, tell their story and help families in similar circumstances find strength and connection.
“It moves people and allows people to see our mission in action,” Arispe said.
March of Dimes reaches out to pregnant women to raise awareness. Arispe said infant mortality is the number one cause of death of babies in their first year.
In Texas alone, one out of every eight babies are born premature and their chances of living past their first birthday are reduced. Arispe said 48 out of every 7,723 babies born in a single week will not make it past their first birthday.
“Prenatal care is very, very critical,” Arispe said. “That is why we are spending this money on research.”
The ambassador families are involved in the events by sharing their experiences through speeches and a video.
Arispe said the Oliver family was selected because they have been vocal about their family’s story.
They had a very active March of Dimes background and they know how to talk to the media, she said. Arispe said they also choose a family with an outgoing child. She said once Madison gets comfortable with you, she opens up.
“Madison has a lot of energy,” Arispe said.
The Oliver family will make an appearance 8:15 a.m. Monday on KABB-TV FOX to talk about this year’s March for Babies walk, Arispe said.
She said the money raised helps support programs that help moms have healthy, full-term babies and goes toward research that aims to find answers to problems that threaten babies’ health.
March for Babies Walk, May 11
This year, Madison’s family has formed Team Madison Melissa with March for Babies, held May 11.
Oliver said the March for Babies annual walk brings out thousands of people that help raise money and awareness for premature births. This year the March for Babies walk in San Antonio will be a 3.1 mile walk held at Sea World.
Currently, Team Madison Melissa has raised over $2,000. The organization’s main concern is to raise awareness about premature birth and prenatal care, she said.
On a recent afternoon, Madison was on the university campus where her father works. She jumped and showed off her karate kicks and punches.
Madison, a kindergarten student, said she currently has a yellow belt in Karate but when she gets a black belt she wants to be a Sensei.
Brandon said through his family’s experience he found faith in medicine and neonatal care. Madison was on a ventilator for three months and on oxygen for a year.
“She couldn’t breath on her own,” Brandon said.
Without this, he said, she would not be around today.
When babies are born premature it’s not something that just goes away, he said. When they are born so early they are missing the development that was supposed to occur in the mother’s womb. This causes the baby to have to stay in the hospital for a longer period of time to be monitored and on ventilators such as Madison experienced. She was in the neonatal intensive care unit for three months, Brandon said.
Brandon said infant mortality is very serious and he witnessed and experienced other families’ tragedies when Madison was in the NICU.
“There were times when the NICU was closed,” he said. “If an infant passes away, they close it.”
Today, Brandon smiles and laughs watching Madison’s energy. His young daughter expresses her dream of wanting to go to the moon one day.
Recently the family went on their first camping trip. Madison’s enthusiasm and imagination shine as she talks about losing a tooth on the trip.
“My tooth falled off…my fourth tooth,” Madison said.
“Did the tooth fairy make it out to the campsite?” Brandon said.
“No! Bigfoot did,” Madison said.
For more information about the March of Dimes or the March for Babies walk call (210) 696-1030 or visit the website.