Standing at the Wells Street bridge, volunteers released 500 carnations into the St. Marys River on Saturday, representing the 500 preterm births occurring in Allen County each year.
The flower release held at Promenade Park was part of an event held by Healthier Moms and Babies to raise awareness of the importance of maternal and prenatal health.
Of those 500 babies born preterm or before 37 weeks gestation, about 60 to 63 die before their first birthday, said Paige Wilkins, Healthier Moms and Babies executive director.
Fort Wayne has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in Indiana, with prematurity being the leading cause, according to a fact sheet provided at the event.
According to the last figures available from 2018, Indiana had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation at 7.3 per 1,000 births. In Allen County, that percentage was 9.
Healthier Moms and Babies saw 700 families last year and predicts that number may reach 1,000 next year, Wilkins said. The organization’s infant mortality rate was 6, lower than the overall county rate.
Dr. James Cameron, a local interhospital neonatologist, spoke at the event, telling his own private story of losing an infant, born at 24 weeks who died 10 days after birth. About 60% of preterm deliveries account for infant mortality rates, he said.
With more efforts put into educating and taking care of pregnant mothers and babies, the Indiana infant mortality rate recently fell to 6.5 per 1,000 births, Wilkinson said.
Local programs the organization offers include Healthy Start for pregnant mothers; the Nurse Family Partnership, a home visitation program where nurses are paired with first-time, low-income, pregnant women and work with them until the child is 2; and Baby & Me Tobacco Free for women who smoke.
The Fatherhood Initiative offers, among other things, a DadUp biweekly meeting for men to discuss health, family history and communication.
Board member Sherry Hartzler, a family court magistrate with Allen Superior Court, joined the organization to get involved with efforts to help families before problems occur.
“I see a lot of the aftermath in court after the infant dies and there’s family trauma,” Hartzler said.
On Saturday, to remember all involved, the downtown bridges and the Lincoln National Tower were lit with purple lights.