Let’s March! For The Keiki

Taislee Simao, 4, and her parents are this year’s Kauai ambassador family for the annual March of Dimes March for Babies April 12

Taislee Simao will melt your heart. She’s a little girl with a big personality and a zest for life. Her favorite cartoon character is Daniel Tiger, and she loves painting, especially with her most cherished colors, pink and purple, although she admits, “I like all of the colors of the rainbow.”

It’s hard to believe that this 4-year-old was once hanging onto life by a thin thread as a premature baby born at just 27 weeks.

Her mother, Stephanie Simao, has hereditary high blood pressure. When she was pregnant with Taislee, she went in for a routine doctor’s visit and discovered her blood pressure was off the charts (160/130). After unsuccessful efforts to stabilize it, she was flown to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children on Oahu, where her blood pressure was finally stabilized and she was released. But only a couple of days later, she was rushed back to the hospital and told she had to give birth.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she says.

Taislee was born with undeveloped lungs, and she had to undergo a myriad of tests and procedures until she finally was released from the hospital Dec. 19, 2009, two-and-a-half months later.

“You go through different stages and challenges,” says Ben Simao, Stephanie’s husband and father of Taislee, about the experience. “You overcome one obstacle, and then you have to prepare for another.”

Once Taislee’s lungs started functioning properly, the focus shifted to her vision, and once her vision was cleared, her heart became the focal point … and so it went.

“Each time you jump one hurdle, there’s another to jump,” he explains. “So, until she was released, there was always that worry.”

She even had to undergo a blood transfusion, and would build her way up to drinking more milk each week to then having to start all over again from scratch.

The best thing about the experience was that they knew representatives from March of Dimes were available to offer a helping hand and a shoulder to lean on. The new parents recall seeing them walking around the neonatal intensive care unit, offering support and letting people know that, if they needed them, they were there. It served as a great source of comfort for the Simaos.

“It was nice knowing that there are other parents going through the same thing that we were,” says Stephanie.

When Taislee’s lungs developed and she was able to eat without a feeding tube and breathe on her own, she was released from the hospital. She weighed just 3 pounds at the time, and Stephanie fondly recalls the onesie given to them by their primary nurse was still too big for her tiny body.

Now, Taislee has outgrown that outfit and is living a healthy and happy life. As a token of her family’s appreciation for March of Dimes, the Simaos are serving as this year’s Kauai Ambassador Family for the March for Babies April 12 at 8 a.m. at Lydgate Beach Park.

The Simaos hope to help spread awareness of the many programs March of Dimes offers to families of premature infants. Stephanie also wants people to understand that prematurity is a common occurrence. There are some 2,300 babies born prematurely every year in Hawaii.

“It’s actually a lot more than you might imagine,” says Kristy Kinimaka, event coordinator for the March for Babies.

The March for Babies is an annual fundraiser for March of Dimes for which teams are formed to raise money to help families like the Simaos, and to offset the huge financial burden that exists for many mothers who must travel to Oahu to give birth “in hope that their babies survive,” adds Kinimaka, who became a mother four years ago.

Kinimaka is grateful that her daughter Kaimalie was born healthy, but she understands the risks involved in premature births.

“Having become a mother myself, this fundraiser hits closer to home now,” she says. “I want to do my part in this event to help bring about more awareness.”

The Kauai High School graduate and University of Hawaii marketing major is excited to shed more light on this year’s march and attract more participants while bringing her expertise to the table.

“The amount of people excited about the event is exhilarating,” says Kinimaka, who owns the clothing line Live Laugh Aloha.

The Simaos are equally excited to be part of the march this year. When asked if they plan to have more children, Stephanie replies with a giggle, “Some days it’s yes, some days it’s no.”

Regardless of their future family plans, there is no doubt the couple will continue to love and honor the little miracle who is Taislee Simao.

To register for the walk or for more information, visit marchforbabies.org.