For parents Doug and Liz Baker, 5-year-old Maria Kelsey Baker is more than just their little girl.
Maria Baker, 5, stands on the front porch of her home in rural Lincoln County. She has been named an ambassador for the March of Dimes campaign. Maria is the daughter of Doug and Liz Baker.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"She's our miracle baby," said Baker, a Lincoln County resident who works for Georgia Iron Works in Grovetown. He said his oldest child, Chrissy, 14, was conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization. "She (Maria) is special, because we didn't think we could have kids on our own."
In Maria's case, she was born naturally without the process of in vitro.
Doctors told the couple Maria would have to be born 32 weeks early through Caesarean after it was discovered that Liz had fibroid cysts, which hindered Maria from being mobile in the womb.
When Maria was born Oct. 18, 1999, at Doctors Hospital, weighing only 2 pounds, 9 ounces, she was diagnosed as having clubfeet and a form of spina bifida, which caused her to be paralyzed from the knees down. The 21 days Maria spent in a neonatal unit at University Hospital and the several surgeries she's endured since were paid for with the help of March of Dimes.
Now, as the Augusta area's ambassador of the nonprofit organization, which improves the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality through research, programs and educational campaigns,
Maria will start the 2005 WalkAmerica on Saturday at Lake Olmstead Stadium, where the Augusta GreenJackets play.
"She's been through so many surgeries, and the Baker family really wants to get the word out about the severity of prematurity, and how it affects people," Terri Fulton, a March of Dimes division director, said about Maria, whose name was submitted to the regional office by Kim Lane, a WalkAmerica team captain for GIW. "By having Maria as an ambassador, it raises awareness and helps people to identify with someone locally."
Surgeries Maria has gone through were to correct her clubfeet.
Her spine also has been operated on. Maria no longer has clubbed feet, but they are still not able to withstand her body weight without the help of leg braces.
Despite her condition, Maria often has a smile on her face. Her parents say she's a happy-go-lucky child and never lets her disability hinder her.
Her condition requires her to wear leg braces and use either a walker or a wheelchair to get around. Her parents say her condition also has caused her speech to be like that of a 2-year-old, but they say she is progressing.
When not in a wheelchair or using her walker, Maria sits on the floor and uses her hands to maneuver her body.
She now weighs 25 pounds. Maria is in speech, physical and occupational therapy, and the hope is that one day she will be able to walk on her own.
Although the pre-K Lincoln County Elementary School pupil spends most of her time outside getting around in her wheelchair, Mrs. Baker said she's ready to make her big debut.
"She's a strong-willed child who has a good outlook on life," she said. "She doesn't feel like she has a disability. She doesn't let it bother her."
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