A Jim Thorpe youth was named the 2013 Pocono Mountains Region March of Dimes Ambassador and will be heading up the "William the Conqueror" team to walk on Saturday, April 27 at East Stroudsburg University.

William Schwartz, who will turn 11 on April 4, is the son of Kathy and Brian Schwartz of Jim Thorpe. He is a fifth-grade student at L.B. Morris Elementary School.

Ironically, William's parents weren't even aware of the extent the March of Dimes had played in saving William's life and his struggle to survive until he was a few years old.

Because of all the complications following his birth, his family has given him the name of "William the Conqueror," for his strong will to live.

William was born at 27-3/7 weeks gestation, weighing in at 2 lbs. and measuring 12 inches long.

"We were first exposed to the March of Dimes when the hospital tightly wrapped a Beanie Babies toy inside his blanket in the neonatal unit at Dartmouth Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire to comfort him." said his mother. "We knew the March of Dimes funded the Beanie Babies, but that was about it."

Later she learned how the March of Dimes funded research, medical staff and public education, and more to help premature babies have a chance at life.

"I never missed a checkup," she said. "I don't smoke. I don't drink."

She also had plenty of rest and followed good nutritional rules for her pregnancy.

Despite these precautions, William was born much too early.

As a tiny baby William had plenty of complications, and almost immediately went into respiratory distress despite steroid shots that were administered to his mother during the weeks before his birth. His lungs were too tiny and not fully developed and he needed to be intubated.

The next four months were difficult for everyone. The family lived 75 miles away from the hospital, which was quite a trip in addition to both parents working full time. They also had another son to care for at home.

William was on a respirator for several months and his parents were able to hold him for brief periods only.

When William was able to come home, his recovery was slow. He required skilled nursing care and had to be on a oxygen and heart monitor. Despite the nurturing home environment and expert care of his nurses, William stopped drinking from a bottle and had to undergo surgery for the placement of a gastrointestinal tube for nutrition because he had come down with bronco-pulmonary dysplasia (chronic lung disease). William couldn't grasp the concept to breathe and eat and he chose breathing. He used the g-tube for all his nutrition until he was 3 years old.

"If William hadn't had early intervention, his problems would have compounded," said his mother. "It wasn't until much later that I realized that William's survival depended so much on the March of Dimes.

"They do research, provide equipment to hospitals and provide educational programs to medical staff and the public to help tiny babies like William survive," she said. "He's strong. He has spirit and he is a fighter."

Even at wrestling, William won't give up, she added.

"We attribute his strong spirit to all those weeks and months that he was being fed by the gastrointestinal tube."

Now its William's and his family's turn to help. They have formed a team, "William the Conqueror," in his honor and his school is also stepping up to support the March of Dimes. They are inviting everyone to join.

His teachers at L.B. Morris have also organized a baby photo contest and there will be a March of Dimes School Assembly, plus a Zumbathon at 6 p.m. March 22 to raise funds for the team, organized by Sierra Hunsicker for her senior project. Plus, William will be playing music at the high school at lunch time with people encouraged to pay him to play a song or change a song.

"We're so grateful to the March of Dimes," she said. "Most parents are not aware of how the technology gained through the March of Dimes research helps babies live normal lives. William will live a normal life because of the March of Dimes.

"People can join William's team," said his mother. "We have T-shirts and bracelets available."

To join William the Conqueror's Team, call (570) 582-3814 for information.

The Pocono Mountains Region March of Dimes Walk will be held on Saturday, April 27 at East Stroudsburg University. Registration is at 9 a.m.

The walk is three miles with rest stops, entertainment and lunch for everyone. The honorary chair is Dr. Philip Lawrence of the Pocono Medical Center. The event sponsor is Sanofi Pasteur.