SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Kelly Matthews drives from Minden, Louisiana everyday to visit her premature son Lucas. He's in the Intensive Care Unit at Christus Schumpert hospital in Shreveport.
Lucus is 16 weeks old and still not a full-term baby.
"I found out I was pregnant on March 18th and on July 11th, they sent me up here," says Kelly.
After just 23 weeks of pregnancy, Kelly gave birth to Lucus on July 26th. He was 1 pound 9 ounces.
"They told me they wanted me to get to at least 25 weeks, because under 24 doesn't make it," she said.
Lucas is one of nearly 500,000 premature babies delivered across the country every year.
In The March of Dimes first report card on preterm births, the national average was a D, but Louisiana scored an F. It's a growing number neonatologist Julia Elrod says needs some attention.
Elrod says "it causes a lot of issues for the whole population, not just health, but economy."
According to The Institute of Medicine, preterm births cost the nation a staggering $26 billion a year. It's also the leading cause of death for babies in their first year of life.
Elrod says a lack of prenatal care contributes, but there are certainly mothers who have taken excellent care and still have preterm babies.
Kelly is one of those mothers. She received all the prenatal care she needed. It was a medical condition that forced her early labor.
Still there are thousands of mothers who do not get all the care they need while they are pregnant.
"Young girls need to be aware that good prenatal care does prevent a lot of these problems," Elrod says.
She added that more government funding and transportation programs to get mothers to the hospital would help give their children a better start in life.