Watching the Slater triplets run circles around their parents Aaron and Mandy, one would never guess the life-threatening events that marked their birth two-and-a-half years ago.
Nothing could have prepared the first-time parents from Brazil for March 16, 2004, the date their children Hannah, Hank and Hayden were born 29 weeks into Mandy's pregnancy -- far too early for any baby, let alone triplets.
"It was emotional," Mandy said. "It's just hard for people to know what it's like."
Weighing just 2 pounds 13 ounces, little Hayden was in the worst shape.
Shortly after birth, one of his lungs collapsed. He was to remain in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Vincent Hospital (known as NICU) for 72 days.
Hayden's siblings, 2-pound-12-ounce Hank and 2-pound-2-ounce Hannah, were hospitalized for 55 days and 62 days respectively.
The children also experienced bleeding in their brains -- a condition known as hydrocephalus -- and were placed on respirators for a time.
Today, they are fully recovered from their perilous beginnings and despite doctors who said they may not develop normally, they have defied the odds.
They are healthy, happy toddlers who like to play, make noise and run their mom Mandy ragged.
"It's enjoyable," Mandy said. "And it's a lot of work."
The Slaters could count their blessings and simply go on with their lives like nothing happened. But they can't do that.
On Thursday night, the Clay County couple, along with other families in the Wabash Valley who have been touched by premature births, gathered at DePauw University's Blackstock Stadium to remember the more than 60 children from western Indiana who were born too early.
Many of the names read during a candlelight ceremony sponsored by the March of Dimes Wabash Valley Chapter were those of children who lost their battle for life.
Such was the case with at least one mother who attended the ceremony Thursday night.
"For many of the people who attend tonight's ceremony, it's a time to remember," event organizer Nikki Simpson, Terre Haute, said. "For others it's a call to action."
The purpose driving Simpson and others to gather for events like the "Prematurity Roll Call" is to tell the community that they care about the lives that have been lost -- and won back -- through premature births and to raise money for medical research that they hope will make a difference in the future.
"This is an opportunity for us to come together and make a difference in the lives of babies," Simpson said.
According to statistics offered Thursday night, 500,000 babies across the United States were born premature in the last year. In Indiana, slightly more than 12 percent of all babies have been born premature, and in the Wabash Valley, including Putnam County, that number has risen to 13.3 percent.
"We're coming together this week, hoping to make a splash in the community and make them aware of the problems with prematurity," Simpson said.
She said there is important research that needs to be done and that strides are being made every year, including new treatments like the one that allowed Hayden Slater's lung to be repaired after it collapsed.
The Slaters have devoted themselves to raising money for that cause and don't mind sharing their story as long as it helps someone else who is going through the same thing.
"We have our own story and we don't want anyone else to have to go through what we did," Mandy Slater said.
Aaron Slater said having premature children has taught him to appreciate even the ordinary things in raising children, such as teaching them to drink out of a bottle.
"Being first-time parents can be difficult, but when you're dealing with premies it's even harder to start out with," he said. "Little things like the common cold can be life-threatening."
He said he also learned that prematurity doesn't discriminate in choosing which children to strike.
"It happens to a lot of different people and it doesn't matter how much money you make or your lifestyle," Aaron said. "It can happen to anyone."
That's why families across the nation have joined the March of Dimes campaign since its inception in the early 1900s.
"It's amazing the contacts we have made with people through the March of Dimes," Aaron said.
Simpson, who said she is seeking more involvement from Putnam County, encouraged people to go to the March of Dimes website: www.marchofdimes.com, for more information or to learn how to donate.
"This is helping to make a difference," she said.