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Jennifer Ballenger always wanted to have children. She also knew it might be difficult for her to
conceive. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition that can cause pelvic pain and infertility in women.
After getting married in 2006, she and her husband, Paul, decided it was time to start trying for a baby.
But after two years of failed pregnancy attempts, the Lady's Island couple opted for in vitro fertilization. After about a month and a half of treatments, they found out Jennifer was pregnant and later learned they would be having twins.
The pregnancy wasn't without problems. Jennifer was so sick that she had to be admitted to the hospital for a few days and was sent home hooked to a nourishing intravenous pump 24 hours a day.
That wasn't the only issue with her pregnancy. At 25 weeks gestation, something happened that changed the Ballengers' lives forever.
Jennifer suffered a placental abruption, a rare and serious pregnancy complication that occurs when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before birth, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. The dangerous condition meant Jennifer needed an emergency Caesarean section.
On July 10, 2008, Addison came into the world weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces. Her sister, Sydney, weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces. Because they were born so small and premature, the twins had a lot of immediate health issues. The doctor said they only had a 30 percent chance of survival.
"We had no time even to react to anything," said Jennifer Ballenger, whose family has been the Beaufort ambassador family for March of Dimes for the past two years.
Each year, local chapters of the nonprofit March of Dimes choose a local family who has benefited from their research to be an ambassador family and help promote the group's efforts.
After the twins were born, they were immediately taken to be intubated because their lungs weren't strong enough to breathe on their own. The girls needed to get into the specially equipped neonatal intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina as soon as possible. Once there, they could be given artificial surfactant, medicine used to keep the air sac and lungs from collapsing. But the weather was bad and an emergency helicopter couldn't get to Beaufort. It took about 7 hours for the twins to get to MUSC.
The next night Jennifer, recovering at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, got a call from MUSC that she needed to get there quick because one of her daughters wasn't doing well. So she checked out of the hospital and headed to Charleston with Paul and his father.
"We knew nothing about a NICU," Jennifer said. "We weren't prepared for anything like this."
A few days later, Sydney passed away. Her lungs weren't developed, she had two holes in her heart and she had bleeding in her brain.
"I think the only way that we got through anything was that Addison was still there and she was still fighting," Jennifer said. "I mean, we didn't know if she was going to make it or not. It took ... at least a month and a half until we knew that she was possibly going to be OK. It was just a roller coaster every day."
Addison stayed in the NICU for 86 days. The couple couldn't even hold her until she was about 20 days old. Even then, Jennifer said they couldn't really hold her like someone would a normal infant. That didn't come until Addison was about three months old.
"If it weren't for the March of Dimes, Addison definitely wouldn't be here right now," Jennifer said. She said the artificial surfactant Addison received at MUSC helped develop her lungs. Research funded by the March of Dimes led to the development of artificial surfactant in the 1980s.
Although Addison had a brain bleed, chronic lung disease, jaundice, a hole in her heart and numerous other obstacles as an infant, she now is 20 months old and doing much better. She still has asthma, and she goes to occupational, physical and speech therapy to help with all the things that go along with prematurity. But Jennifer said she's a strong little girl who keeps on fighting, and right now Addison is working toward a big milestone -- walking.
"There's definitely something special about her," Jennifer said. "She's just a very happy little girl. And she's sassy."