It's a startling statistic -- the United States ranks sixth in the world when it comes to premature births. But one organization with deep ties to Hollywood and the movies is working to make sure premature babies can survive and thrive.
How to Help: Brave Beginnings
Fifteen-month-old Nylah Fraziar is a survivor. She was born nearly 3 months early at Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center in Downtown Los Angeles. Today, she is a thriving toddler.
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Her mother, Sarita, was initially overwhelmed by what lay ahead after her child was born.
"I'm going to be honest," Sarita said. "The first day after she was born i could not look at her."
She was so fearful her tiny daughter would not live through the week. She credits the dedicated doctors and nurses at California Hospital and the lifesaving equipment in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU.
High-tech incubators complete with a built in scale, temperature control and humidification are credited with dramatically improving outcomes of premature babies. The non-profit Brave Beginnings is dedicated to making these units available in NICUs here and across the country.
You might remember the movie theater campaign from the Will Rogers Institute with celebrities like Tom Selleck, Jamie Lee Curtis and Mickey Rooney passing the can before the show to raise money. Since the 1930s the Will Rogers Institute and the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneer Foundation have funded pulmonary causes -- from rehabilitation to research -- as well as training for doctors to fight lung disease.
It's where Brave Beginnings got its start.
Todd Vradenburg is Executive Director of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneer Foundation and Brave Beginnings.
"For us to make a jump into a program that has true tangible results, we actually know that the grants we are giving are providing the equipment that's saving lives, it's completely different for us," he explained.
And the impact has proven life changing. Brave Beginnings gives about a million dollars worth of grants every year to hospitals in need of updated NICU equipment with immediate results. Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center applied for and received two grants from Brave Beginnings to purchase additional live saving equipment.
Jim Orr is Executive Vice President-General Sales Manager of Domestic Theatrical Distribution for Universal Pictures. He's currently Board President for The Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneer Foundation, and he's been involved with Brave Beginnings for more than a decade.
"There was a hospital in rural Virginia that needed some equipment, so that was the last hospital we chose to help out that particular year," said Orr.
The $40,000 grant paid for a new CPAP ventilator. And just days after it arrived, a woman at Fauquier Hospital near Gainesville went into premature labor with twins.
"As fate would have it, this particular day Hurricane Sandy hit, so nothing was flying or driving," Orr explained. "But for the equipment that was installed just a few days earlier, the second twin wouldn't have made it. So now you've got two little girls growing up in rural Virginia that are going to be best friends forever instead of a tragedy."
Vradenburg said Brave Beginnings hopes to get life-saving equipment into every NICU in the country that needs it, and put itself out of business.
"We see this problem, we're going to go out and fix it, and we're going to say mission accomplished. That's our goal."
Sarita knows those critical first few months at California Hospital gave her daughter Nylah that brave beginning all babies deserve.