ADA — Rhiannon Kelley received an early Christmas package in 2002. In fact, she was surprised by her two most prized gifts — daughter Nevaeh and son Staton.

The twins, who arrived 16 weeks early, turn 5 Thursday. That might not seem like a giant leap for some, but their mom was told by many they would never make it.

“I was told that they probably wouldn’t survive because they were so premature,” Kelley said. “They gave them less than a 5 percent chance of survival. Staton only weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces and Nevaeh was four ounces lighter. But I never lost faith. I knew that others were wrong and that my twins would make it. Sure, there have been challenges along the way, but thankfully, they are doing great.”

Staton and Nevaeh were named March of Dimes ambassadors for the Ada area back in 2004.

“We have been proud to volunteer for Walk-America and other fund-raising activities,” Kelley said. “It is important that more research be done so that more premature babies can be saved.”

March of Dimes officials said one in eight babies is born prematurely in the United States. Often, the cause is unknown. The mission of the national voluntary organization is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community, education and advocacy to save youngsters.

Rhiannon Kelley said she is blessed to have a partner for support.

“My husband Brian has been wonderful with the kids,” she said. “It takes a special person to take on two children, especially ones who have health issues. But he loves the kids, will do anything for them.”

A normal pregnancy lasts nine months, or about 38-42 weeks. Newborns are considered to be premature if they are born before they are 37 weeks old. Although there are many risk factors that can help predict which pregnancies are at risk for premature delivery — in most cases — no cause can be pinpointed.

Rhiannon praises the Shriners for providing medical care to the twins.

“My mom works at an assisted living center in Ardmore,” she said. “A friend of hers heard about the twins and gave her a number for the Shriners. We have to travel to the nearest Shriners hospital in Shreveport, La. We’re so thankful for them.”

Shriners Hospitals for Children, with a budget of $721 million in 2007, is a network of 22 pediatric hospitals in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The hospitals provide specialized care for orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate. All services are provided free of charge. For more information, phone (800) 237-5055.

As a mom of children who need a little extra help in life, what message would Rhiannon want to send to others?

“That my children and others can be happy being them,” she said. “There’s nothing they can’t do. It’s not so important that it might take them a little longer to develop than others. It takes a lot of patience. Just don’t give up on them.”

As the twins reach 5, they’ve already reached some “unreachable” goals. Both Nevaeh and Staton attend Glenwood Early Childhood Center and have vision, speech, occupational and physical therapy three times a week. And it looks like Staton is about ready for a “regular” classroom.

“I’m so proud of my kids,” Rhiannon said. “They’ve come so far, and I believe the future for them is bright. That’s a long way from five years ago when few believed they would even survive. We just have faith that everything will work out for the best.”

Rhiannon said she hoped others would learn to treat her children with dignity.

“Remember, those kids who are born premature are people,” she said. “Treat them like people. They’re not stupid. I know most people don’t realize it or do it on purpose, but often they are treated like they are less than other children.”

Sometimes, caring for a child with special needs can be overwhelming. But the Kelley family lives by a simple motto: “Just do it!”

Few had faith five years ago that twins — Nevaeh and Staton — who weighed less than three pounds combined would survive. They not only survived but celebrate their fifth birthdays Thursday. Rhiannon Kelley knew her premature babies would make it, knew they would have 10 candles to blow out one day in the future.

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