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Joining Forces With March Of Dimes, Tyler Ott Continues to Deliver Hope

Despite being born a month early, Ott graduated from an Ivy League school and went from going undrafted to becoming a Pro Bowl long snapper in the NFL. But his greatest impact remains off the field where he continues to make a real difference battling for a cause both personal and dear to his heart.

Entering the final home stretch of her pregnancy, Laurie Applekamp's journey as an expecting first time mother was not playing out quite as she had envisioned.

With a little over five weeks until her scheduled due date, Applekamp started to experience swelling and other concerning symptoms, which led to her visiting the hospital for evaluation. Unsuspecting of the severity of her deteriorating condition, doctors informed her she had developed preeclampsia, a pregnancy-induced disorder characterized by high blood pressure that can lead to organ damage and other serious, sometimes fatal complications.

Initially, aiming to avoid a premature delivery if at all possible, doctors advised Applekamp to return home and rest. Returning two days later for additional testing as recommended, her blood pressure had gone down and other numbers improved as well. But out of an abundance of caution, they decided she needed to stay on bedrest until she gave birth.

Little did they know, they wouldn't have to wait very long for that time to come. Immediately after arriving back home, Applekamp's water broke. Rushed back to the hospital in quick fashion, doctors ran extensive tests, reaching the conclusion her baby's lungs weren't fully developed. At that point, nobody knew what to expect moving forward.

After nearly seven hours in labor, Tyler Jordan Ott introduced himself to the world. But with doctors fearing he would need immediate breathing support for his lungs, Applekamp would have to wait for the first opportunity to hold her child, who was promptly taken to the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and placed on a respirator.

Though they discovered his lungs were fully developed after all and he didn't stay on a respirator for long, Tyler remained in the NICU for 10 days as a precaution due to his mother's rapid labor and preeclampsia. The hospital allowed Applekamp to come in at specified visitation hours and she was able to touch his hand through the isolette, which helped her cope during a stressful time of uncertainty.

"It doesn't matter if it's 10 days or you know, four months," Applekamp said. "When you have to leave your baby in the hospital and you go home, it's the worst thing in the world to feel when you leave and you don't leave with your baby. We experienced that, but luckily, it was only for 10 days and then he got to go home, so we were very lucky in that regard."

Ott, who currently is in the midst of his fifth season with the Seahawks and seventh season in the NFL overall, was born at six pounds, 11 ounces, a healthier weight than most babies born early. Applekamp believes if he would have been delivered after a full term, he would have been close to nine pounds.

Though his mother exercised great caution anytime he got sick, for the most part, Ott didn't have to deal with life-altering complications growing up and experienced a perfectly normal childhood. From a young age, he excelled in multiple sports, lettering in football, basketball, and track and field in high school before accepting a football scholarship from Harvard and eventually making it to the NFL.

Nearly 30 years later, Applekamp and Ott understand they were bestowed great fortune compared to the majority of families facing the abundance of challenges presented by premature birth.

A typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, but premature babies - also called preemies - are born at 37 weeks or earlier. Babies that survive premature birth often have long-term physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, chronic lung disease, and intellectual disabilities that affect them from childhood through adulthood. They often suffer from delayed development and have a greater chance of experiencing other health complications later in life.

According to Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO of the March of Dimes, a non-profit organization that advocates for the health of moms and babies, nearly 15 million babies are born prematurely each year on a global scale. In the United States alone, 10 percent of babies will be born prematurely at 37 weeks or earlier. That equates to one out of every 10 babies and specific communities of color such as African American and American Indian communities have been disproportionally impacted.

"Our health is primarily determined by how we live," Stewart explained. "It's whether or not we have access to safe and decent and affordable housing, whether we have access to good paying jobs, access to environmentally safe communities, and whether or not our communities are safe, overall, access to clean waters, good nutrition, all of those things, factor into our ability to live a healthy lifestyle. And so communities that struggle with some of what we call those social determinants, we often see having higher rates of premature births and infant mortality and maternal health outcomes that are not that are not positive."

Despite having several notable advantages over most countries in the world, including superior technological resources, the United States doesn't fare well compared to other developed nations in preterm birth rate. In the March of Dimes annual report card, which the organization has published since 2008, the country received a C- grade with a 10.1 percent preterm birth rate in 2020.

Back in Oklahoma where Applekamp resides and Ott grew up, the situation has been especially dire. The state received an unsatisfactory D- grade from March of Dimes in their latest report with an 11.2 percent preterm birth rate and 2020 marked the fourth straight year the state exceeded 11 percent.

What's behind these poor numbers? As Stewart noted, every state has its own set of unique factors contributing to the problem.

In the case of Oklahoma and other rural states with sparsely populated counties, lack of access to obstetric care remains a significant obstacle. Politics also plays a decisive role with each state having different health care policies that influence accessibility to insurance coverage before, during, and after pregnancy. For example, while Oklahoma has enacted policy to expand Medicaid coverage, it has yet to pass an extension that would provide coverage for mothers beyond 60 days after the birth of their child.

"We know that many women are not going to have health coverage that covers them before pregnancy in ways that they could manage their health," Stewart elaborated. "They may get coverage during pregnancy, and then they get dropped after the baby has come. That is common and that complicates you know access to care for women and their babies when they may need it most. So there are a lot of gaps in the system of health care that really also drive a lot of these outcomes as well."

Serving as advocates for improving the health and well-being of mothers and babies alike, Applekamp and Ott have done their part tackling the ongoing maternal and infant health crisis both in their home state as well as the United States as a whole. The two have passionately worked with March of Dimes for nearly 20 years, using their own story to inspire others and raise awareness for the cause.

"I think it's easy for us to be involved with the March of Dimes," Ott says. "It's a great story to tell families that have premature twins that are born three months early that just because they're a preemie, that doesn't mean they're not going to be happy and successful and healthy."

Though she admitted she was unaware how much the March of Dimes helped during her own preterm pregnancy prior to interviewing for the job, Applekamp joined the organization as a director for their Eastern Oklahoma Division. At the time, a 10-year old Ott became actively involved with their fundraising walks, handing out water to participants, transporting people around in a go cart, and helping in a myriad of other ways.

By 2007, Applekamp had been promoted to State Director of the Oklahoma Chapter for the March of Dimes. While he had plenty on his plate playing multiple sports at Jenks High School, Ott remained immersed as a student volunteer for both the organization and the local hospital.

"He has served in so many capacities helping since he was 10 years old, in some fashion, like March of Dimes, that that's pretty much all he knows," Applekamp stated proudly. "And saying that whether or not he had heard the story from the very beginning, we've talked about it so much and it's a story that I tell so often that it's probably kind of ingrained in his mind."

Tyler Ott

Named a Pro Bowler for the first time in 2020, Ott continues to make a difference on and off the field for a cause he holds dear to his heart.

After bouncing around with four teams in three years to start his career, Ott finally found a home in the Pacific Northwest long snapping for the Seahawks, earning a three-year contract extension in 2019 and making the Pro Bowl in 2020. Maximizing on his platform as a preemie who made it to the NFL, he evolved from a volunteer into a philanthropist by launching the Points For Preemies initiative in 2018.

Coming from what Ott called "humble beginnings," Points For Preemies takes place during the months of November and December, coinciding with Premature Awareness Month. For every extra point and field goal scored by the Seahawks, Ott personally donates $100 to the March of Dimes. In addition, he aims to secure matches from sponsors as well.

"It's something that we can talk about every week to bring up that we raised money for the March of Dimes for this many kicks in this game and we're looking forward to the next week to continue working with it and it's an important cause," Ott said. "Obviously to us, it's very important, close to our hearts. So it's just how can we continue to raise awareness to level the playing field for all moms and babies, to give every baby a fighting chance, to give every baby an equal chance?"

To date, with the program now in its fourth year, Ott has raised nearly $50,000 and in the process, he's emerged as the face of the March of Dimes. In the future, he hopes to continue expanding the initiative by landing additional sponsors and finding ways for fans to become involved, even if they only provide one-time pledges.

Now a seasoned NFL veteran, Ott has already demonstrated he can play at the highest level of his sport. On that accomplishment alone, his remarkable journey provides hope for others born early to follow in his footsteps and live a highly successful life.

But in the end, what happens on the football field pales in comparison to changing the narrative revolving around premature birth and Ott knows there's much work left to do. Rising to the pinnacle of his profession has granted him the opportunity to bolster awareness for a disturbing public health trend and he won't be satisfied with his contributions until women and babies enjoy consistently healthy outcomes.

With outstanding allies in his corner, including a pair of supportive organizations and his mother, Ott will not stop fighting to rectify these health inequalities and achieve legitimate, sustained progress. Right down to the last snap.

Interested in becoming involved with the March of Dimes? Donations to support research and their programs for moms and babies can be made by visiting For those eager to lend their voice towards enacting needed policy changes, check out their #BlanketChange campaign to ensure moms and babies receive adequate health care and support. A schedule of upcoming events, including "March For Babies" fundraisers nation-wide, can be accessed here.