A 2nd Act: How Tiny Became Mighty Big

Posted By on January 2, 2020
Mitzie Warner and Olivia Fierro

The March of Dimes helped a small baby help others

Mitzie and Jeremy Warner had gone through four failed in-vitro fertilizations. Then it happened: The fifth time was a charm. Parenthood would be theirs some time around the baby’s July 22, 2016, due date. But in mid-April, Mitzie began experiencing what was ultimately diagnosed as preterm labor. She was admitted to the hospital and given magnesium to slow down her contractions, along with steroids to hasten the development of her baby’s tiny lungs.

            The waiting began. Long hours dragged into days, with hopes of delaying the baby’s birth for as long as possible. Realizing their baby was most likely going to be premature, Mitzie and Jeremy Googled “premies.” While the long list of possible complications was terrifying, it appeared that many were treated as the result of the work done by a single organization: the March of Dimes.

            Initially founded in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (as it was originally called) was created to combat polio. Once that disease was conquered, the organization changed its name and expanded its mission to include research funding for congenital disabilities, infant mortality, and maternal and neonatal care.

            “We looked at each other and pledged that, no matter how our story ended, we were going to make the March of Dimes a part of our lives,” Mitzie said. “It was because of their research that doctors learned the value of the magnesium and steroids I got. We’d never heard of them, but they were saving our baby.”

            On April 16, Dillon Warner was born, weighing in at one pound, eight ounces. He was 15 weeks premature and about to begin a 127-day stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A roller coaster of emotions awaited the Warners. Dillon battled infections and endured heart surgery when he weighed just two pounds. And the stress didn’t lessen when they finally went home.

            “We couldn’t leave the house as a family for a year,” Mitzie said. “Visitors could only come if they were certain they weren’t sick. The nursery looked more like a hospital room. Still, we kept going back to the March of Dimes website to read stories of hope. And we prayed that ours would ultimately be one of them.”

            It was. By Christmas of 2016, tiny Dillon was stronger and healthier. Breathing a little easier, the Warners put the promise they made in the hospital into action. Mitzie created a small team to walk in the 2017 Phoenix March of Dimes fundraiser. Called Team Tiny Tot, she set a goal of raising $1,000. She overachieved and raised $1,400. The bar was established and had to be higher in 2018. She didn’t want to keep going back to her friends and family, realizing she needed to pull in more of the community. Her marketing background sparked an idea. In the NICU, Dillon had been given caffeine, a frequent practice to treat or prevent respiratory and lung problems in premature babies (another March of Dimes research discovery).

            “Coffee shops are so popular, it was clear they had to be part of the equation,” Mitzie said. “Partnering with a nearby Gilbert shop called Sweetz and a local mini horse farm, we held Sweetz, Sips and Mini Pony Pics, and we raised more than $3,000!”

            In the 2019 walk, Team Tiny Tot raised nearly $5,000. And just as thrilling, the Warners became one of the organization’s Ambassador Families, with the opportunity to share their story with donors. Mitzie also accepted the co-chair position for the 2020 Phoenix March for Babies, sharing duties with her good friend, “Good Morning Arizona” anchor Olivia Fierro. Held in downtown Phoenix in April, it is the organization’s largest local fundraiser.

            Not all second acts are created from the ground up. Sometimes, a life’s mission grows as a branch of an already established second act. But the goal is the same: finding the treasure in life’s wreckage. It is one of the best ways to heal from challenges. For the Warners, not only is their March of Dimes work their treasure; there is one more.

            Jeremy is a pharmacist. The third night Mitzie was in the hospital before Dillon was born, Jeremy was with her, rather than at work. His pharmacy was robbed at gunpoint. It is frightening to think what might have happened had he been there. Suffice it to say that at less than two pounds, tiny Dillon might have saved his father’s life.
            To learn more, visit marchofdimes.org and teamtinytot.com.

Judy Pearson

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.