WILKESBORO, N.C. — After spending 104 days in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Brenner Children's Hospital, a Wilkesboro baby is home with his family in time for Christmas. This is Marshall's story.
'How would we do that?'
Marshall Duncan was born six weeks premature, and like other babies who can't wait to join the world, his journey hasn't been easy.
“He started off pretty rough,” Dr. Ricardo Rodriguez said. “He spent some time on a mechanical ventilator, then developed mild chronic lung disease.”
The baby boy's fight didn't stop there.
“He also required abdominal surgery with the rupture of his intestine,” Rodriguez said.
Early birth complications meant Marshall's homecoming would be pushed back past Halloween, past Thanksgiving, past the point that his parents already had their Christmas tree up.
“We had a calendar up that my sister made of how many sleeps until Marshall was home," Marshall's mother, Amy Duncan, said. "In our naivety, we thought 70 days would be above and beyond when he would be in there, but of course, it was a 104. Had we known at the beginning, that would have seemed so daunting. Like, how we would do that?”
'On lockdown, but in the best way'
Then -- an early Christmas gift for the Duncan family -- Marshall got to go home on Dec. 12. He'd been in the NICU for more than three months.
His parents captured on video the moment his siblings met their new baby brother for the first time.
Doctors trained the family on how to care for Marshall, so he could be home for the holiday.
“He has several cords. He’s on oxygen and an NG feeding tube,” Amy said.
The family is limiting visitors. Even doing the interview with WFMY News 2 over Zoom to protect Marshall from germs.
“We’re basically on lockdown, but in the best way,” Amy said.
They’re all together now, at home in Wilkesboro, after months of Amy spending half the week at the hospital in Winston-Salem while Nathan cared for their other children.
“When she’s down there, and I’m in charge, the house does not run nearly as efficiently as when she’s here," Nathan said. "It was kind of anything goes. Cereal for supper. Sleep where you fall asleep. It’s a madhouse. So, I’m very happy to have her home."
"He would text me, 'I am not made for this,'" Amy laughed.
'Before I met him, I felt like he was my son'
Like other NICU families, the Duncans wondered every day when their baby would come home.
“That’s the million-dollar question that every parent has: When is my child coming home? I think they were patient enough to know that day was going to come,” Rodriguez said.
Before that, Amy and Nathan were patiently waiting on the blessing they hoped would always come.
For years, the couple wanted to adopt a child.
"We’re followers of Jesus, so we’ve been adopted into the Lord’s family," Amy said. "So, to know what it’s like to be taken under a wing and welcomed into a family. What greater way to do that than have a child taken into our home and say, 'You’ll be a part of our family forever.'"
They’ve fostered a few children, hoping for a permanent addition, but it wasn’t guaranteed.
Then out of the blue, they got a Facebook message from a woman in need.
“That sense of urgency - that it was time - came kind of quickly," Amy said.
So did the connection she felt to this new baby boy.
“Even before I met him, I felt like he was my son. I knew for a couple of days before I was able to meet him," Amy said. "I was just a basket case – crying with my diaper bag, just waiting for the day that I could go down there.”
'Another reason to praise Jesus'
Amy and Nathan got their Christmas wish, but it's also clear that baby Marshall got a wonderful gift, too - them as parents.
“Clearly, Nathan and Amy are just fantastic people," Rodriguez said. "And this is a really good thing for everybody. And it gives up that there are still really good people in the world. They certainly are.”
Now, instead of anticipation hanging in the air, it’s Marshall’s stocking.
“I’m so excited just to have another reason to praise Jesus, having a new son in our family. We’re thrilled,” Nathan said.
Surrounded by love, in time for the holidays.