Daily, it seems, we are encouraged to contribute to worthy causes. Without too much thought we throw our loose change into the kettle and buy one too many boxes of cookies, secure in the knowledge we are Doing Something to improve the world at a minimum of inconvenience.
But every so often, we receive a example of how, exactly, our charitable donations are put to use, an example that transforms vague notions of benevolence into stark reality.
Mine sleeps in the crib across the hall.
On Dec. 29, 2010, my son Calvin made his unexpected appearance. Calvin came into the world in an ambulance speeding down U.S. Highway 52 near Guttenberg - small, frail, and 14 weeks early.
For the next 102 days, Calvin was a resident of the University of Iowa's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He received numerous medical treatments, including open heart surgery when he was seven days old.
Finally, on April 9, 2011, we brought Calvin home to Fort Dodge, where he continues to thrive. The only residual effects of his hospital stay are a scar from the heart surgery incision and an ability to sleep through all manner of bright lights and beeping.
Prior to Calvin's birth, neither I nor my wife Susan had more than a passing knowledge of prematurity.
We had never heard of surfactant, an essential fluid that lines the lungs and which develops late in fetal life - roughly 10 weeks after Calvin was born.
In the not too distant past, preemies born without adequate amounts of surfactant would suffer respiratory distress that was often fatal. The introduction of surfactant therapy in 1990, in which surfactant is introduced into the lungs externally, has helped reduce deaths by respiratory distress by two-thirds.
Before Calvin was born, Susan and I had never heard the term "retinopathy of prematurity." Oxygen treatments that are necessary to sustain preemies can trigger abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eyes, resulting in vision loss.
Once upon a time, not long ago, such impairment were accepted as unfortunate necessity. But in recent years, research has shown that altering levels of oxygen, coupled with laser eye surgery as necessary, can eliminate the effects of ROP.
Both treatments were developed with the help of the March of Dimes.
In 2003, the March of Dimes launched the Prematurity Campaign, designed to raise public awareness of prematurity and decrease the rate of preterm birth in the United States.
In approximately half of cases, the cause of premature birth is unknown. Calvin falls into this category; indeed, we will never know why he came early. Given my own tendency to procrastinate, hereditary factors may perhaps be ruled out. During his treatment in Iowa City, I remained in Fort Dodge, traveling back and forth on weekends while Susan remained at the hospital.
As "NICU Parents," we benefited from the March of Dimes' educational efforts. Materials provided through the March of Dimes helped transform complex treatments and unfamiliar words into something we could understand. Knowing that Calvin was receiving state-of-the-art treatment - and having some understanding of the treatments - helped ease my own mind, even when I was three hours away.
For more than 70 years, the March of Dimes has worked to improve the health of infants and children - that much, and nothing else, I knew before Calvin.
Little did I realize how much an organization about which I knew so little would come to affect my life.
On Saturday, Calvin, Susan and I will help kick off the 2012 March of Dimes' March for Babies in Fort Dodge. I now join the Worthy Cause Chorus and invite you to make a financial contribution to the March of Dimes at www.marchforbabies.org.
Because you never know when a worthy cause may become your own.
Jesse Helling is the city editor of The Messenger.