MARSHALL - Little Kalli Swanson came into the world three months early, weighing 1 pound, 12 ounces. It was five days before her parents, Heidi and Chad Swanson, could even hold her.
"It was a mix of emotions for us," Heidi Swanson said. "We were so excited to finally hold our daughter, but we were so scared too."
Like most micro-preemies, Kalli had her ups and downs in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the Swansons said. But it turned out that Kalli was a strong fighter, and after 104 days in the NICU, she went home to Green Valley, weighing 5.5 pounds.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Kalli Marie Swanson, center, and her parents, Chad and Heidi Swanson, are this year’s March of Dimes Ambassador family.
"She's very healthy and very active now," Chad Swanson said of Kalli, who will celebrate her second birthday Wednesday.
On Saturday, Kalli and her family will serve as the March of Dimes Ambassador family for southwest Minnesota. Registration for the event begins at 9 a.m. at the Marshall Middle School, followed by the walk at 10 a.m.
"We're very honored to be ambassadors," Heidi Swanson said. "We're excited."
The Swansons are very grateful, not only for outstanding doctors and nurses at Avera in Sioux Falls, S.D., but for the March of Dimes organization.
"The March of Dimes representative out in Sioux Falls always made sure we knew what the doctors were telling us," Heidi Swanson said. "Everyone at the hospital was very supportive, but Jackie was kind of an outsider looking in."
The family also received literature and other resources while Kalli was hospitalized.
"March of Dimes had a family support program where they had books and stuff available for us," Heidi Swanson said. "When you have a preemie in the isolette, you can't really do much, especially when you can't hold them at first. So we read a lot of books to her."
It wasn't until after the family brought Kalli home that they realized that March of Dimes is also responsible for medical research, which made them even more appreciative.
"We found out that they were much more involved in Kalli's care than we ever knew," Heidi Swanson said. "Some of the medical advances they helped to make saved her life within the first couple weeks of life. It's amazing."
According to March of Dimes statistics, more than half a million babies are born too soon every year, including 7,200 annually in Minnesota.
The Swansons' journey began on Thanksgiving morning in 2009, when they were overjoyed to find out that Heidi was pregnant. Several ultrasounds early on indicated that she was pregnant with twins.
"We were admittedly a little overwhelmed at first," she said. "But we had tried for so long and were very excited with the idea of two babies. However, during another ultrasound at about nine weeks, we were devastated to find out that we lost one of the twins."
In March, the couple found out that they were having a girl and started "painting her room pink and shopping."
Around 24 weeks of pregnancy, Heidi Swanson told her husband she didn't feel like she was growing very much. A day after her 25-week checkup, her blood pressure became a little high, though she wasn't showing any signs of preeclampsia.
"We monitored my blood pressure over the next few days and it remained high," she said. "I was not feeling like myself. I was lucky enough to have one of my good friends as my nurse for my regular OB (obstetrician). I called her over the weekend and asked her some questions."
The nurse insisted Heidi go in for monitoring. Soon after, the decision was made to airlift her to Sioux Falls.
"The blood flow to the placenta was restricted and the baby's heart rate was dipping," Heidi Swanson said. "They started me on magnesium and blood pressure meds before leaving Marshall. Chad and I were terrified, worried and nervous. All of a sudden, we had no control over the situation and my health and the baby's life were at risk."
After six days of bed rest, Heidi Swanson had an emergency Cesarean section.
"It just happened to be Mother's Day," she said. "Kalli Marie weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces and came into the world crying. Chad and I cried tears of joy when we heard her."
Though nothing could have prepared the Swansons for the experience of having a 27-week preemie or an extended NICU stay, they're grateful they have a beautiful miracle to show for it.
While Kalli was born very small and critical, she is as healthy as she's ever been, the Swansons said. Physically, Kalli is still on the small side, but intellectually, she's at or above where she's expected to be.
"She's still tiny for an average 2-year-old," Chad Swanson said. "Early on, my wedding ring would fit all the way up her arm, but not so much anymore."
Kalli also knows sign language in addition to being very active.
"She's a very busy girl," Heidi Swanson said. "She's a little stubborn and kind of feisty. But that's OK. We wouldn't have her any other way. We know she's healthy when she's feisty."
The Swansons are excited to be part of the March of Dimes celebration Saturday, after missing last year's walk because of Kalli's health issues. Nearly 20 family members will join the "Kalli's Busy Bugs" team that day.
"What an opportunity to do the walk for the first time and just jump right in," Heidi Swanson said. "We're happy to share our story and hope that we, in some way, help the March of Dimes to help other families like us."