MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- When Lily Parrish was born almost two months prematurely, she was so small that her father’s wedding band could fit around her arm.
Hanging in the hall of the Parrish home aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., there’s a photo of that moment – a one-day-old child, weighing barely 2 pounds, clinging to life in neonatal intensive care, wearing a symbol of her parents' love on her tiny sleeve.
Lily was due in May 2009. Her mother, Tiffany, started suffering complications in January. Things quickly grew more serious.
“She was literally starving to death inside of me,” Tiffany said.
Doctors administered a treatment involving steroids in an attempt to save Lily’s life. On March 6, 2009, a full 59 days before she was due to give birth, Tiffany underwent a cesarean section at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, in Jackson, Tenn.
“The doctors told me that I wouldn't hear her cry. They said they had to whisk her away immediately to try to save her life,” Tiffany said. “But the steroid injections worked. Not only did she cry, she was screaming her head off.”
The Parrish family still had a rough road ahead. Tiffany’s complications with the pregnancy created a threat to her own life.
She had fluid in her lungs, and her kidneys and liver were shutting down. Even after Tiffany pulled through, Lily spent more than a month in neonatal intensive care, sleeping in an incubator. Her parents had to scrub and clean their hands and arms and don sanitary gear just to see her.
The Parrish family’s ordeal lead Tiffany to look into the March of Dimes, a 75-year-old organization dedicated to fighting prematurity. It turns out that the steroid injections that saved Lily’s life were a result of March of Dimes-funded research, Tiffany said.
Fast forward more than three years. Lily is an energetic child with blonde hair and big eyes. Last year, Tiffany gave birth to a full-term, healthy baby girl, Allie. Tiffany’s husband, Jonathan Parrish, joined the Marine Corps and is now a lance corporal assigned to Marine Attack Squadron 542 at Cherry Point.
The Parrish family was recently selected as the ambassador family for the Crystal Coast March of Dimes March for Babies, an annual awareness march scheduled for May 19 in Morehead City. As an ambassador family, the Parrish family will use their story of survival to boost awareness for the March for Dimes mission.
“We pick a family every year that had a premature child,” said Gretchen Jones, March of Dimes division director for southeastern North Carolina. “I met Tiffany last year, and I thought she’d just be the perfect person.”
Tiffany said she is excited to use her role as an ambassador for March of Dimes to share her story with anyone who will listen.
“Lily is the reason I am doing this,” Tiffany said. “Seeing what my daughter went through has inspired me to do everything I can. One in every eight babies is born premature. It is the number one cause of deaths for infants.”
Founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, March of Dimes played an instrumental role in the eradication of polio. Since shifting their focus in 1970, they have raised more than $1.8 billion to research premature pregnancies. November is National Prematurity Awareness Month.