The day that Mooresville resident Maelyn Greist was born, hundreds of people were preparing for the March for Babies walk in downtown Charlotte that weekend.
Six years later, Maelyn's family has been recognized as ambassadors for the March of Dimes, an organization that raises money and awareness about prematurity, genetic disorders and birth defects. Maelyn was born premature.
March for Babies is the organization's signature fundraising event.
Maelyn's mom, Teryl, recalled how she went into labor as she and her husband were remodeling their Mooresville home.
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"That's when I knew something wasn't right," said Greist.
When she arrived by ambulance at Levine's Children's Hospital in Charlotte, doctors told her she was already four centimeters dilated. That indicated labor had begun and was progressing, even though her due date was nearly four months away.
Doctors started Greist on an IV of magnesium sulfate, which stops or slows contractions.
They also gave her two steroid injections to help Maelyn's lungs mature faster.
"It was inevitable that she was coming, but they were trying to postpone it as much as possible," said Greist.
Maelyn was born 15 weeks early on April 23, 2005. She weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces.
"She was two weeks old and didn't even weigh 2 pounds when they performed open-heart surgery on her," said Greist.
Doctors told Greist they couldn't guarantee Maelyn would make it.
By the time Maelyn was allowed to leave the hospital July19 - just two weeks shy of her actual due date - she'd received five blood transfusions and undergone two spinal taps.
Greist remembered what a terrifying first few weeks it was, not only as a new mother, but as the mother of a premature baby.
"They gave her this heart monitor to make sure her heart was beating because she'd forget to breathe," said Greist. "The only way I could sleep at night was when she had that heart monitor on, because I knew she was still breathing and her heart was still beating."
Today, Maelyn is an active 6-year-old attending Park View Elementary School in downtown Mooresville.
"Maelyn is such an impressive little girl. She's probably one of the most confident 6-year-olds I've ever met," said Janice Dumsha, executive director of the March of Dimes. "She's articulate and poised beyond her years. We knew we had made the right choice."
The March of Dimes chose the Greist family from more than a dozen families to be the Charlotte region's 2012 March for Babies Ambassadors.
"I'm a big believer that things happen for a reason," said Greist. "As scary and awful it was, she turned out fine. I felt like we had to do something to help."
Greist said she uses social media to raise awareness and money for the March of Dimes. So far, Maelyn's Dream Team has raised $2,380.
Maelyn helps by writing letters to her relatives asking for donations.
Their team is ranked first in North Carolina in March of Dimes fundraising this year.
"The Greist family has been so supportive over the years, and they've done a really good job of going with us when we needed a family to speak at events," said Dumsha.
Dumsha said the organization will need all the support they can get this year, since it's trying to raise $50,000 more than last year.
Last year, 7,500 residents participated in the March for Babies, raising $500,000.
Teryl said her family is thrilled for the opportunity to help any way they can.
"We just feel so lucky, because there are so many other people who have babies born later than she was and they don't make it," she said.