Two-year-old Cooper Smith of Baldwinsville is like most toddlers. He enjoys helping his mom in the kitchen, playing with his two older brothers, and eating hotdogs.
Unlike most toddlers, however, Cooper is also one of the 500,000 babies born prematurely every year in the U.S.
Doctors found several complications with mom Nikki's pregnancy during her 16-week ultrasound, including fluid around Cooper's heart, an enlarged kidney, and a cyst on his brain.
"It's a nightmare of sorts," said mom Nikki. "Because this most precious part of you, something's not right. And there are things that could be potentially harmful or take them from you. It's scary."
After a high-risk pregnancy lasting 32 weeks, doctors decided to deliver Cooper via C-section seven weeks early. He weighed only two pounds.
Nikki and her husband, Eric, went back and forth to Crouse Hospital for the next 74 days, visiting Cooper in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, watching Cooper grow stronger.
â??Heâ??s stronger than any of us could be," said dad Eric. "You worry about him in the NICU, you worry about him once he gets home, but the strength that he has is amazing.â??
While visiting Crouse, Nikki saw a pamphlet about the March of Dimes, and learned more about the organization's research and how it was benefiting Cooper.
This year, the March of Dimes is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The organization played a pivotal role in eradicating polio, and now it is working to further lower the nation's premature birth rate, stressing to expectant parents that healthy babies are worth the wait.
Despite Cooper's now healthy life, his parents still do not know why Cooper was born prematurely.
â??Cooper is the â??I donâ??t knowâ?? baby," said Eric. "To this day, nobody can give a definitive answer as to why heâ??s so small.â??
But the family is grateful for the March of Dimes and its research, and is now serving as a 2013 Ambassador Family. The Smiths are using the organization's events to give back and to heal.
"The October after he came home, our entire family went to the Parkway in Liverpool," said Nikki. "We walked for him and all those other preemies out there."
Today, Cooper continues to thrive. "He does everything that everybody else here does," said Nikki. "He's just a little bit smaller. And I'd say he needs help with it, but he really doesn't because he finds a way. He does what he does, and he does it Cooper's way, and that works."