Rachel Newkirk wasn't expecting to have her first child at 26 weeks.



After being rushed to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola for unbearable back pain and then admitted to a room, her daughter's heartbeat stopped. Almost immediately, doctors rushed Newkirk to have an emergency C-section and found she had been bleeding internally. Born at 2 pounds and four ounces, her daughter, Addison, had to be resuscitated and was moved to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where she stayed for 74 days.



The average stay is 17 days according to Sacred Heart's website.



At the time, the Newkirks were living in Pensacola, where the Sacred Heart NICU is located. Rachel says they were very fortunate to have such exceptional care close by. Sacred Heart's NICU is the only Level III NICU in Northwest Florida and just one in 12 in the state of Florida. Families from Miramar Beach, Destin, Crestview, Panama City Beach, Jay, and Holt rely on Sacred Heart for special, specific care for babies born prematurely or critically ill.



"They have phenomenal care there," she said. "Without them here, we'd have to travel to larger cities like Atlanta or Jacksonville to find a Level III NICU."



Now, the Newkirks are Santa Rosa Beach residents and Addison or Addy Beth as she is called is a healthy and happy 23-month-old.



"She's normal besides the fact she's a teeny, little tot," Rachel said as Addy Beth coos in the background.



The 3rd Annual Preemie Cup honors those stories like Rachel's by raising money to help Sacred Heart continue caring for babies in the NICU. Sacred Heart's NICU accepts patients regardless of their ability to pay.



"They can't do it by themselves," Rachel said. "Not only the care, but the equipment really saves these babies' lives. It's also important because you're giving to your local hospital."



Tina Strobel started the Preemie Cup in 1998 in memory of her daughter Gus Dahl Strobel. Since then, the event has raised over $330,000 to purchase state-of-the-art equipment. The multi-tiered event consists of a paddle board race, a silent auction and finally, the Preemie Cup sailing race at Regatta Bay in Pensacola.  



"It has been very rewarding to work on this event," said Kathryn Hendrix, chairwoman of the Preemie Cup. "Not only because it is dear to my heart, but it truly helps so many families."