Bundles of joy

MARSHALL – Ethan and Natalie Shuckhart are a rambunctious pair of twins.

One afternoon last week, Ethan showed off his ninja moves before going to ride Big Wheels with his sister.

“He’s all boy,” said Ethan’s parents, Chris and Sue Shuckhart. Meanwhile, Natalie loves dancing and “anything pink.”

Although the twins are growing and full of energy now, at 5 years old, the Shuckharts remember that Ethan and Natalie have come a long and difficult way. They were born premature, and spent much of their first year of life in intensive care.

Chris and Sue Shuckhart said they learned firsthand how important programs like the March of Dimes can be.

Ethan and Natalie and their family will be the ambassadors at this year’s March For Babies walk in Marshall. The walk will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Marshall Middle School.

The March of Dimes, which helps to fund research and programs to help babies and families, will be celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

The Shuckharts said they were surprised and excited to learn they would be having twins.

“It’s a good thing you’re lying down for that ultrasound,” Sue Shuckhart joked.

At first, she said, everything was going fine, but there were complications in the pregnancy, and she went into premature labor.

When Ethan and Natalie were born, “They each weighed two pounds and nine ounces,” Sue Shuckhart said.

The two tiny babies were placed in a Sioux Falls neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Among the health risks they faced was the fact that their lungs weren’t fully developed yet.

“I remember I just felt numb,” Chris Shuckhart said of that first day. He and Sue were faced with the possibility that Ethan might not survive.

“Ethan wasn’t doing well, and he wasn’t responding to any treatments,” Sue Shuckhart said. However, the couple decided to keep going with medical treatment, and Ethan’s condition gradually improved. Natalie spent 96 days in the NICU, and Ethan 122 days, they said.

“A lot of the therapies that saved their lives were developed by the March of Dimes,” Sue Shuckhart said. The organization was also able to help provide their family with support and perhaps most importantly, information.

“You get so much information thrown at you so fast,” Sue Shuckhart said. March of Dimes resources, she said, “helped us to understand things.”

The Shuckharts also found support in family, other “NICU parents,” the doctors and nurses who cared for the twins, and local community members. All My Favorites and the Marshall Area Stage Company held fundraisers to help the family. “We want to say thank you again to everyone who supported us,” Chris Shuckhart said.

The twins’ health has improved as they’ve gotten older. However, Sue Shuckhart said, “Having a preemie doesn’t end when they come home (from the hospital).” Both twins were once hospitalized for respiratory issues, and taking care of Ethan and Natalie has also meant being watchful for signs of trouble or developmental conditions that can come with being born premature.

The need for continuing support and care for babies and their families is another important reason to support the March of Dimes, Chris and Sue Shuckhart said. The Shuckharts – including Ethan and Natalie – said they’re looking forward to the walk on Saturday.