Oliva (left) and Isabella (right) were born premature but are now fully healthy after 15 months.
LONG BRANCH: For Rose and Fabio Apolito, of Freehold, and their babies Olivia and Isabella their time at Monmouth Medical Center NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) was a humbling experience.
"I didn't get to see my babies until more than 24 hours after I delivered them, and it was through the clear plastic of an isolette," Rose said. "We didn't get to hold Olivia for the first time until she was 6 days old."
But 15 months later, their babies are healthy and developing normally and the Apolitos they have been chosen as the honorary family for the Big Steps For Little Feet Walk in Long Branch on Sunday, Sept. 21.
Big Steps For Little Feet is a charity of the Monmouth Medical Center Foundation and the proceeds of this weekend's walk will support the Unterberg Children's Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center.
The 2-mile walk will begin at Great Lawn at 11 a.m. and registration will be held at 10 a.m.
The NICU at Monmouth Medical Center treats conditions such as prematurity, low birth weight, acute life-threatening illnesses and congenital disorders, as well as providing delicate surgeries.
The Apolitos' babies were born premature at 32 weeks, but Rose was admitted 26 weeks into her pregnancy after being diagnoses with severe preeclampsia. Olivia was three and a half pounds when she was born and suffered from respiratory distress syndrome and Isabella was only two and a half pounds and was at risk for retinopathy of prematurity.
"Our girls came home from the NICU weighing only four pounds," Rose said. "Not exactly how we envisioned welcoming them into the world, but with grace we excepted the honor of starting life out as a NICU family."
Rose said the goal of Big Steps For Little Feet Walk is to help raise $100,000 this year to support the expansion of the NICU at Monmouth Medical Center. She said the walk is largest fundraiser of the year for Big Steps For Little Feet.
"We're getting close to our goal," she said.
There is no registration fee for the walk but all participants are encouraged to make a donation.
The event will also include vendors, music, a raffle and speeches by people involved with the organization.
Rose said she is proud to be a part of the walk and is looking forward to sharing her story.
"It allows us to share our story and maybe be a source of comfort for other NICU families," she said.