Almost six years ago, Shalini Wittstruck's textbook pregnancy became complicated in an instant, and she went into early pre-term labor at 29 weeks for an unknown reason.
Wittstruck lived in Colorado at the time and ended up giving birth to her son Kieran about 30 weeks into her pregnancy. That was 10 weeks before she was due.
"It was very scary," she told the Herald. "At 30 weeks, there's a lot that can go wrong."
Wittstruck and her husband Shane found help and comfort during Kieran's first fragile weeks of life from the March of Dimes, a nonprofit dedicated to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature births and infant mortality.
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"I knew of March of Dimes, had heard about events and the organization but never gave it a second thought," Shalini said. "Lo and behold, the organization was very helpful to us after Kieran was born as far as resources and knowledge."
Now the family -- including a healthy 5-year-old Kieran -- is the March of Dimes' national ambassador family for 2012.
They will travel from their home in Snohomish to the Tri-Cities on Wednesday for a luncheon that kicks off events leading up to the March for Babies in Columbia Park on April 28. The walk is the local chapter's signature fundraiser.
"We're so excited to come to the Tri-Cities -- to come to a part of Washington other than the Seattle area -- and rally walkers," Shalini said.
The Wittstrucks recently took a trip to Washington, D.C., where Kieran met President Obama.
"It was a great experience," Shane said. "He's really, really incredible with the children. As soon as he opened the door to the Oval Office, he gave the kids a group hug and thanked them for the work they're doing for March of Dimes."
Kieran had two questions for the nation's leader. He wanted to know about the Secret Service, and he wanted Obama to use his presidential veto to override his mom's decree that he couldn't have any candy until after the visit.
The family also has been to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., but the Wittstrucks said the best part of being an ambassador family is the opportunity to talk to other families who have experienced premature births.
"I have to say it comes down to grass roots, the families you meet -- the fact that people are appreciative and talking about pre-term birth," Shalini said. "It's not a common subject. I get the most value from those conversations."
The luncheon is at noon Wednesday at the Red Lion Hanford House, 802 George Washington Way, Richland. Lunch is free with an RSVP to Ann Philip at 591-0931 or email@example.com.