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Kaeo’s first race

LIHUE — Kaeo Punzal is looking forward to Saturday morning.

That’s when the 5-year-old will be running his first race.

“It’s a little more than a mile since he’s in the 2K of the Captain Cook Caper,” his father, Jacob “Smiley” Punzal, said Wednesday at Starbucks Coffee in Kukui Grove Center. “All these years, and races, he and Pookela were in the double stroller. This time, he’s running the race.”

To top the excitement, Kaeo will be celebrating his sixth birthday Monday.

Jacob and Kaeo were on hand as the March of Dimes Ambassador family to greet team captains for the upcoming March for Babies, which unfolds April 11 at the Lydgate Park main pavilion. 

Jacob, more commonly known as “Smiley,” is a single father to Pookela and Kaeo. 

Kaeo was born prematurely and following his stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Oahu, he was taken to San Diego for heart surgery.

“That was a long stay,” Jacob said. “I was away more than five months.”

The March for Babies helps families like the Punzals when a pregnancy is heading to a premature delivery.

A premature baby can have underdeveloped lungs, leading to respiratory problems, shallow breathing and pneumonia.

Other complications such as blood infections and digestive distress make it difficult for the smallest keiki to survive.

Kaeo was one of the babies helped by the March of Dimes through continued research, equipment and volunteer support.

“He is looking forward to not just racing his first race, but his sixth birthday on Monday,” Jacob said.

Anyone who would like to start a family or company team can contact March for Babies event coordinator Puna Butay at 651-5736 or email nbutay@marchofdimes.com.

Butay, a Hanamaulu resident, is also familiar with March of Dimes. Her fourth child, Rhextyn, was born at just 28 weeks and weighed only 2 pounds, 11 ounces.

“This traumatic event allowed me to meet the wonderful volunteers from the March of Dimes,” Butay said. “Had it not been for groundbreaking research and funding by the MOD, Rhextyn may not have survived.”

This led to Butay’s involvement with the Kauai March for Babies as a family team captain, the 2013 Ambassador family, MOD board member, and now, the March for Babies event coordinator.

“I’m committed to the March for Babies because of what the organization has done for me and my family,” Butay said. “With support from honorary partner, the Rotary Club of Kapaa, and its president James Norman, we hope to make the 2015 March for Babies the best yet.”

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