By Alejandro Dominguez Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH — It has been almost six years but Shalini Wittstruck still doesn’t know what caused her to go into labor two months before she was due.
She and her husband rushed to the hospital in Lone Tree, Colo., where they had been living. Doctors tried to stop the birth. It didn’t work and her son was born weighing only 3 pounds, 1 ounce.
She and her husband, Shane, hadn’t even picked out a name yet.
“You are not prepared at 30 weeks to have a baby,” said Shalini Wittstruck, now 36. “From a woman’s perspective, you are expecting a baby shower and buying baby equipment.”
Fast forward to today and their son, Kieran, has beaten the odds by having no long-term problems from his premature birth.
And Kieran has been selected this year as the national ambassador for the March of Dimes. He and his family, who now live in Snohomish, will travel throughout the country to promote the nonprofit organization that aims to improve health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
There’s only one national ambassador per year, and Kieran also is the first ambassador from Snohomish County since the program started in 1946.
They’ve already crisscrossed the country and spoken with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office earlier this month.
But with all the attention, Kieran is still just a young boy. What he enjoys the most is inventing spy gear out of tubes, cords and pipes. He is planning to create a spy agency that is comprised of cats.
“It will have a million cats and they are going to catch the bad cats,” said Kieran, who attends kindergarten at A World Discovery Montessori School in Everett.
The Wittstrucks believe the work of March of Dimes on drug research and advancement in hospital equipment made a difference in Kieran’s health.
Kieran spent a full month at the newborn intensive care unit in Colorado. He suffered from anemia and sleep apnea. Doctors later found a heart murmur and a small benign brain cyst. There were fears his brain and eyes would not completely develop.
Fortunately, Kieran did not need surgery.
After going home, his parents had to closely watch Kieran, making sure he didn’t fall asleep while eating and checking on him repeatedly at night, worrying about his weak breathing. They had to take him to the doctor once a week for the first three months.
It wasn’t until Kieran turned 1 year old that the Wittstrucks relaxed.
“I started to breathe a little bit easier,” said Shane Wittstruck, 36, who works as an IT consultant from home.
Recent national ambassadors for the March of Dimes have not been as healthy as Kieran, said Liz Craig, spokeswoman for the March of Dimes national ambassador program.
Kieran was chosen to be the national face of the March of Dimes for several reasons, including his health and the fact that his parents had been involved in fundraising for the March of Dimes before Kieran was born. The boy also was a regional ambassador for the Puget Sound area for the Washington state chapter of the March of Dimes last year.
“They did a wonderful job on a small scale, we were sure they would do it on a larger scale,” said Jennifer Kozicki, event director of the state arm of the nonprofit.
Last year, the Wittstrucks attended several of these fundraisers and shared their story with families going through similar experiences.
Their passion for the cause, openness and Kieran’s good health have given hope to those families, Kozicki said.
This is the same thing the family is scheduled to do during the year with multiple trips across the country. They are scheduled to travel to Cleveland this week and then to St. Louis. They are set to appear at several fundraisers including one May 5 at the Seattle Center.
They have visited Florida, Arizona and Washington, D.C. They are not paid for the work, but the trips are paid for through the organization.
Meeting Obama was a high point for the parents.
“He was very gracious for what we are doing and the volunteer work we are doing,” Shane Wittstruck said.
Kieran actually enjoyed more a behind-the-scenes tour of the Denver International Airport. He also visited the hospital where he spent so many weeks in intensive care, meeting the staff that took care of him.
In a phone interview last week, Kieran has already learned well his pitch for the nonprofit.
“Support the March of Dimes!” he yelled.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; firstname.lastname@example.org.