Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 12, 2013

Prater shines as local March of Dimes leader

Tim Preston
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — When Kristin Lehman had to select a chairman for the local 2013 March of Dimes campaign, she knew none could be more motivated than Marci Prater.

“I suckered her into it,” said Lehman, who serves as the local March of Dimes Community Director. Lehman said Prater was one of the first volunteers she met after taking the job, and confessed, “She doesn’t know this, but after I heard her story, I cried when I got back in the car.”

Prater, who is the principal at Catlettsburg Elementary, has no doubt she owes the life of her son, Ryland, to the March of Dime’s many efforts.

“I’m a very thankful mother this Mother’s Day ... even though he’s rotten,” Prater said with a laugh as her now-healthy 5-year-old boy zipped around her office, tending to his mother’s collection of hand-painted masterpieces and checking on activity on the other side of the door.

Prater said her son was born with a condition called laryngomalacia, which is described simply as “a floppy airway — his trachea and larynx are floppy.” While undergoing a test to diagnose the situation, Ryland had a bronchial spasm and basically “blew out both of his lungs,” causing immediate disruption of all body functions, including his heartbeat, for a full 14 minutes. With full credit to Dr. Scott Knight and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King’s Daughters Medical Center, Prater said her son spent the next four days in a coma, relying on a ventilator for his very breath.

“It was kind of like a roller-coaster,” she recalled, explaining they constantly checked the young boy’s brain activity and other systems for signs of hope or problems. Prater hadn’t planned to have additional children after Rylan was born, and said she feared she’d made a regrettable decision by having a tubal ligation before she and her husband, Donnie, had any idea their second son might not make it.

“If it wasn’t for my faith and my family, I couldn’t have made it,” she said, noting she had her Bible in hand and was reading from Psalms when the doctor told the family, “Things didn’t go well” during the procedure. Despite their worst fears, however, young Rylan bounced back and now lives such an active life his mother had to take up running just to have enough energy and stamina to keep up with him.

“We became involved in March of Dimes the next year,” she concluded.

The Praters attended March of Dimes’ fundraising training in Florida and set their sights on a goal of $100,000 for this year’s Ashland March for Babies. Prater said she engaged her family, friends, co-workers and anyone else who would listen, all the while fearing they would fall short of the ambitious $100,000 goal. One technique in particular proved quite successful, she said.

“The way to a teacher’s heart is not through anything but food,” she said with a warm laugh, explaining she relied upon retired educator and talented cook Prudy Colvin to craft a series of $5 themed lunches celebrating things like football season with tailgate-party foods, or with plates and packages in honor of Halloween, Christmas and other holidays. “We got lots of ideas from Pinterest. The men loved the walking tacos.”

Area businesses also got into the March of Dimes action, and local students embraced a challenge to raise more money than their city or county counterparts, Prater said, excitedly adding the elementary, middle school and high school students generated an astounding $8,000 in only two weeks. Lehman and Prater laughed as they recalled gathering each school’s donations, which were primarily in the form of coins.

“My truck kept like ... dropping,” Prater said with a hearty chuckle.

Students and staff at Catlettsburg Elementary also had their own “mini march,” Prater said, raising more than $3,500 in a single afternoon.

When all the coins and cash were counted and the checks totalled up, Lehman said she was thrilled to tell Prater she had exceeded their goal by $20,000.

“I called her and said, ‘You blew it out of the water!’” Lehman said.

“This community is truly blessed with amazing people,” Prater added, crediting  everyone involved and adding her level of personal pride after witnessing her hometown come together for the cause.

Prater confirmed she is committed to the local March of Dimes effort “for life,” although she expects her husband, Donnie, will bring out her competitive side when he assumes the chairman’s job in 2015.

“So the family competition is on ... and I’m like, ‘You’re going down!’”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.