Baby's early entrance inspires mission
By Adam Thompson
Denver Post Staff Writer

It's hard not to wince at the photo taped to Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin's locker. It shows his son, Kamron, fighting for a life his body was unready to handle.

Most photos of newborns are a source of pure joy for their parents. This photo is scary, with hospital tubes intruding from the corners as the boy, looking smaller than some of his father's tattoos, sleeps.

"That's your flesh and blood," Martin said. "That's your child. It never gets easy seeing your child in the hospital incubator. You see the picture. That's why I leave it up there. That's my inspiration, every day."

Kamron was born more than two months premature after Martin's wife, Heather, underwent an emergency Caesarean section in March. The baby is doing fine eight months later. So are Martin's other two children, also born prematurely.

Having lived through that terror three times, Martin said it was an easy decision when the Colorado chapter of the March of Dimes asked him to help promote a sometimes forgotten issue.

"Just knowing what it was about, they didn't have to ask me twice," he said of the organization, which raises awareness of premature births, as well as money for research and support for families in need.

The March of Dimes' state director, Shelly Goodchild, was looking for a celebrity spokesperson who would be more than a figurehead. She found one in Martin, who has agreed to appear at events promoting awareness. He will tape a television public service announcement next week, and the Pepsi Center will paint a 20-foot pink and blue ribbon outside its east entrance to honor November as Prematurity Awareness Month.

"Somebody with the kind of profile that Kenyon has will really help us raise the issue with a very diverse cross section of people," Goodchild said. "We're very, very excited and proud to have him as a representative."

She added that bringing attention to the cause is important, citing a recent Gallup poll that found only 36 percent of Coloradans regard premature births as a serious issue.

"That's not something that you think about on a daily basis if it hasn't affected you directly," said Martin, who also is on the board of directors of the American Institute for Stuttering. "You think every birth is perfect, and it's not. There's a lot more to do with it. Lungs have to be developed, hearing, vision."

The March of Dimes estimates about 500,000 children are born prematurely every year in the United States. The numbers have been climbing steadily since 1981.

"There's nothing more important for us to be working on," Goodchild said, adding that costs surrounding a premature birth can top $300,000.

That's a steep price for most families. "Luckily, I'm in a position where I can take care of that," Martin said. "If I wasn't in that position, then I don't know what I would do."

Asked what advice he had for parents coping with the issue, Martin replied, "All I can say is try to stay strong as possible, because the baby needs you. If you show signs of weakness, maybe it won't work out as well. Just try to be strong as possible."

The Martins' parental joy is no longer cut with the dread they felt this past spring.

But the picture stays in the father's locker. It reminds him of what matters in
his life, and of the difference he might make for others.