INDIANAPOLIS - Lori and Justin Hill had an almost picture-perfect life.
The young couple had a house in Plainfield, a canine companion, and plans for the next addition to their family: a baby. But the joy of hearing, "It's a girl!", was matched by Lori's worry: something didn't feel right inside.
"We decided to wait until we heard something from the doctor," Justin said.
That wait turned into heartache.
The Hills found out their unborn child had a fatal birth defect. Four months later, the couple lost baby Mary Catherine.
"We were just very mad," Lori said. "It just wasn't fair."
Indiana's infant mortality rate was 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011, giving it the nation's 6th-highest such rate. The national rate that year was 6.05 deaths per 1,000 births.
On Friday, Gov. Mike Pence told about 500 people attending Indiana's first statewide summit on the issue that the state's death rate among its youngest citizens is "deplorable."
Pence challenged health care experts, community leaders and others attending the summit to "think fresh" about how Indiana can reduce deaths in children's first year of life.
There was some good news on Friday, though. The Indiana chapter of the March of Dimes released its annual premature birth report card: giving Indiana a "B." Last year, Indiana was ranked a "C" for premature births, and six years ago an "F."
All of the states surrounding Indiana received a "C" grade, which was the national score.
"We're doing better than most as far as pre-term birth," said Tim Arndt, the Indiana state director of communications and marketing for the March of Dimes. "But, we're still seeing babies die at a rate in Indiana that is alarming."
Arndt credited improvements in the state's pre-term birth ranking to the efforts of affected families in leading the way for more funding and research – families like the Hills, who were asked by the March of Dimes this year to be public advocates.
"If I could just help one person or one family – to say, it's ok, you will get through this – that's all I need," Lori said.
The Hills said they hope the answer lies in more research. And, they're still trying for a baby – boy or girl.
The March of Dimes is holding its 75th Anniversary Signature Chefs Gala next weekend. For more information about the March of Dimes, or the event, click here.