When Cruz and Easton Duarte, 2-year old twins from Rocklin, were born on April 2, 2011 at Sutter Roseville’s Family Birth Center, they were five weeks premature. Tiny baby Cruz weighed 4-pounds, 10-ounces and baby Easton weighed 5-pounds, 4 ounces.
Like many premature babies, they needed help with breathing and feeding after birth. Both were whisked away to the medical center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in order to receive specialized care.
Their parents, Rebecca and Andy Duarte, were overwhelmed that their baby boys were so small and helpless. They were also alarmed to learn their boys have albinism, which means their bodies can’t make a normal amount of melanin, causing a lack pigment to protect their skin and eyes. While their parents have dark eyes and dark hair, both boys have blue eyes and blonde-white hair.
“The nurses were great when the boys were in the NICU and they spent a lot of time with us,” said Rebecca at the recent 5th Annual NICU Reunion held at Hillsborough Park in Roseville. The reunion gathered staff and families back together to show the babies’ progress since “graduating” from the NICU.
Rebecca especially remembers how respiratory therapist Dawn Smith eased the family’s fears about the twins’ albinism. “I have an 11-year old niece with albinism,” said Smith. “I’ve watched her grow up and she is amazing.”
Smith talked to Rebecca and Andy early on during their time in the NICU and shared information about her albino niece. She also connected the Duarte’s to her sister-in-law and to web sites and support groups on albinism.
In turn, Smith fell in love with Cruz and Easton and the rest of the family. “They are incredibly special to me,” she said. Smith, who visits the Duarte family at least once a year, is connected to the Duarte’s by Facebook to keep up on the family’s activities.
Cruz and Easton are happy and healthy toddlers. They need to wear sun glasses outdoors to protect their eyes, which are sensitive to bright light, along with hats and sunscreen to protect their fair skin, which they donned for the NICU Reunion. Sister Gabrielle and brother Ryland joined the twins at the NICU reunion, where there were activities that included crafts, bean bag toss, Diaper Derby races, big wheel races, Pirates Treasure and Lucky Lollipops.
“Dawn started out as a good resource for our family,” said Rebecca. “Now she’s become a family friend.”