You would never know by looking at them, but 3 1/2-year-old twins Ava and Reese McNeil of Olathe had a rough start to life.
Born 14 weeks premature to parents Hilary and Zack McNeil, each of the girls weighed less than 2 pounds at birth.
The McNeils’ home for several months was the hospital. Reese spent four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Ava was hospitalized for six months; three at Overland Park Regional and three at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
The experience left such a lasting impression on the McNeils that they have become determined to let other parents going through similar situations know that they are not alone.
The couple plays host to an annual Golf for Babies tournament to raise money for the March of Dimes and their efforts to eliminate premature birth. The McNeils donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the organization.
This year’s tournament is scheduled for Aug. 4 at the Golf Club at Falcon Lakes in Basehor, Kan. The tournament gives Zack McNeil an opportunity to combine two of his passions: golf and awareness about preventing premature birth.
“Fifteen million babies are born early every year and it’s the leading cause of death among babies,” McNeil said. “I thought we have got to do something about this. This is a major health concern and social issue.”
In the past two years, the Golf for Babies tournament has raised more than $84,000. The average golf tournament in the United States raises between $6,000 and $7,000 a year.
Golfers can sign up for the tournament by choosing a $300, $500 or $1,000 per person fundraising level. Once they’ve raised the money required by seeking donations from friends and family, the individual golfer essentially gets to play in the tournament for free. Each fundraising level offers additional perks like dinner, drinks and golf apparel and gear. The tournament is held in conjunction with the McNeils’ nonprofit group called FORE! Preemies Foundation.
“We work to advance neonatal research, support families of preemies and help educate expectant mothers and health care professionals about best care practices,” Zack McNeil said.
Hilary McNeil said she had no prior complications when she went into labor with Ava and Reese at 26 weeks. The girls were so small, that Zack’s size 7 wedding band was able to fit all the way up to the girls’ shoulders.
Today, Ava and Reese are like other 3 1/2-year-olds. They have made remarkable progress health-wise.
The McNeils are thankful that the girls came through the health crisis so well and are happy to give back to those new parents who find themselves in a similar situation.
“With trips to Children’s Mercy and other families that we have met along the way, we realize in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal,” Hilary McNeil said. “Some families are burdened with health issues so we feel extremely blessed. It was a rocky start, but we have come a long way and we don’t have it nearly as bad as some families have it.”