FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Every year, 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide, and 1 million die before their first birthday, according to the March of Dimes. A Florence couple who has been affected by this sad statistic first-hand also knows the joy that can come from the struggle when a baby is born too soon.
Nathan Lucas Tyner was born during his mom's twenty-third week of pregnancy, weighing just one pound, six and a half ounces. On Monday, he turned one year, three months and eleven days old, and every second counts. His twin sister, Bennett Elizabeth, died in the hospital.
"I remember telling Adam, no matter what happens, you go with the babies," said Ashley Tyner, the twins' mother.
Ashley and Adam Tyner tried for more than a year to get pregnant, and when they found out they were having twins, they were surprised.
"She turned the screen and was like, 'Well there's two in there,' and Adam immediately responded with, 'Are you sure there's not a third?'" Ashley said.
To this day, doctors still don't know why the babies came early. Tests done on Ashley showed nothing was wrong. She simply went to Carolinas Hospital in Florence with some abdominal pain one day, and two days later, was having full-blown contractions.
Bennett came first with a massive brain bleed she couldn't heal from.
"Her brain swelled a lot quicker than we had anticipated, and by the time we got to evaluate her, Duke wouldn't take her, MUSC would take her, so the Lord took her at 39 days," said Ashley.
Nathan would spend 121 days in the NICU at McLeod. Like most preemies, he had, and still has, challenges. He was born with a collapsed lung, chronic lung disease and underwent blood transfusions, tests, scans, and even surgery to stop a brain bleed. His dad says since that surgery last June, Nathan's health has improved tremendously.
"It was like he turned into a new baby - his spirits awoken, he became more mobile and more talkative and more happier," said Adam Tyner.
Nathan wears a cranial helmet to help shape his skull, and twice a day for 90 minutes he gets strapped into his stander to help train his legs to grow straight. Soon, he'll undergo eye surgery to correct the crossing in his eyes. It's a journey the Tyners say has made them stronger, and one they say has shown them how fragile life truly is.
"It's made me a stronger Christian, I think my faith has held fast through the ups and downs," said Ashley.
The CDC reports In 2014, one out of every 10 infants born in the United States was a preemie. Pre-term birth is the greatest contributor to infant death, and is also a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children.
That's why the Tyners understand the significance of organizations like the March of Dimes. In 2015, the Greater Pee Dee March for Babies raised over $155,000.
"They saved Nathan, there's so much to say about them," said Ashley. "The resources they've given McLeod, from the incubator, the jet ventilators, just the equipment and the outreach of the nurses has been amazing."
This year, The Tyner family is the ambassador family for the Greater Pee Dee March for Babies. They'll walk the 5K Saturday, April 30, 2016 in honor of both Nathan and Bennett.
And though it's a walk Nathan's sister never got a chance to be a part of physically, you need only to look at pictures, like the one of the twins holding hands in the NICU before she died, to know Bennett is there in spirit.
"She will very much be a part of his life," said Adam.
The Greater Pee Dee March for Babies is this Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the McLeod Health and Fitness Center in Florence. The organization hopes to raise $175,000 this year.