HAMPSTEAD -- As the March of Dimes poster child and goodwill ambassador, Amanda Gail "Mandy" Kent dedicated herself to raising money for research into birth defects and infant mortality.
Born with spina bifida, a congenital defect usually resulting in partial paralysis, Mandy, 16, said she has always known how vital that research is to her own well-being. Now, she said, she knows how it helps to save the lives of newborns.
She often toured Sinai Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where the doctors showed her "tiny, tiny infants."
"I never thought while I was touring that unit that one day my niece would benefit from all the work the March of Dimes has done, just like her Aunt Mandy has," she said. "I thank God they are here to help both of us."
When Kristina Lynn Beard was born May 4 at the Baltimore
hospital, Mandy said she saw how medical technology was set into motion. The new baby, born three months premature to Mandy's sister, Vickie, weighed only 1 pound 5 ounces.
"She was so tiny and bruised, and looked so helpless," said Mandy. "But, thanks to research and many medical advances, she is getting stronger each day. She has begun to gain weight and is breathing more on her own."
The baby now weighs nearly 2 1/2 pounds, said Richard Kent, the "proud grandfather."
"We hope she will be home by September," he said.
Mandy has returned to Sinai often in the past two months.
"The new equipment, especially the advanced ventilators, have saved Kristi's life," she said.
Mandy, who will be a junior at North Carroll High, made the experience the subject of her first column, "A Moment in Mandy's World," published in the quarterly March of Dimes newsletter.
"I want to thank everyone who has helped raise money for research and the March of Dimes for giving me the opportunity to raise money to fight birth defects," she said.
Mandy still has many battles of her own to fight.
Yesterday, she underwent more than 10 hours of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital to remove cysts from her spine.
"The cysts are pressing my spine in different areas and preventing me from walking on my own," she said. "The doctors are hoping after the surgery, I will be able to walk."
The idea of getting out of her wheelchair made her "more than willing" to undergo her 20th operation in 16 years, she said.
Long hours of recuperation and therapy will follow the operation, and Mandy said she is prepared.
"Even if the surgery works -- and I am really hoping it will this time -- I will have a lot of hard work to get movement back in my
legs," she said.
Hard work has never stopped Mandy.
She spent the week before her surgery working as a counselor at 4-H camp, organizing and supervising 18 young campers.
"I have problems with my back and legs, but I deal with them, and I will deal with them the rest of my life," she said resolutely. "I don't let it stop me."
On Aug. 2, she plans to be in Westminster at the annual 4-H Fair.
"I have all my projects and displays ready to go," she said. "Getting them together has kept my mind off the surgery."
While recuperating at home, Mandy also wants to try out new recipes to enter in the cake competition at the fair.
"She has it all planned, even if she has to go straight from the hospital to the fair," said her father.
"I am betting she makes it."