The survival tale of Lauren Bates sounds straight from the Hallmark Channel or a Hollywood movie script, except the extraordinary details are part of a true story that has strengthened the faith of an Ardmore couple and spawned an annual fundraiser for premature babies.
The precocious 3-year-old, who has her mother’s big blue eyes and her father’s grin, is the only child of Ardmore High School Assistant Principal Rusty Bates and Cedar Hill Elementary School guidance counselor Kristin Bates.
Lauren, described as “precious and sweet” by Ardmore High technical specialist Allena Fogg, is now a thriving pre-school student who loves singing and the color purple. She is also among the survivors, or graduates, of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children after being born premature at 27 1/2 weeks on March 5, 2010.
Lauren, who fit easily in her father’s hand, weighed only 2 pounds, 12 ounces and spent 52 days in the NICU and six weeks under home quarantine.
Rusty said when he first visited his newborn daughter, “it was unbelievable. It was like a hospital within a hospital.”
“The NICU will always be a special place for our family,” he added.
The outpouring of support from the community and hospital staff led Rusty and Kristin to start Playing for Preemies, a fundraiser that has drawn countywide participation and benefits the NICU and the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund.
Through the sale of more than 1,300 T-shirts and “Pie the Principal” promotions at Ardmore, Cedar Hill and Johnson Elementary School, Playing for Preemies has raised $15,593 in four years and culminates each fall with the West Limestone-Ardmore football game.
Rusty, along with Ardmore students Sarah Tipton, Emily Rogers, Miranda Rodgers and Savannah Short, presented this year’s $4,017 check to Huntsville Hospital’s Stephanie Hanback on Nov. 22.
Hanback, the director of communications for the hospital’s foundation, said the money is used each year to help purchase equipment for the NICU.
“The thing that was great about this year’s fundraiser was Lauren being old enough to help out, and she’s getting to the point where she understands what is going on,” Rusty said. “And this year’s fundraiser was our best yet, and all the money stays local.”