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Howard's tiny bundles of hope

Todd and Su Lee hold their 2-month-old twins, MacHale, left, and Maxine, right, on Tuesday at their home in Howard. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)1 / 4
Su Lee talks to her 2-month-old daughter, Maxine, who was born two months premature, on Tuesday at their home in Howard. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 2 / 4
Todd Lee talks to his 2-month-old son, MacHale, who was born two months premature, on Tuesday at their home in Howard. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 3 / 4
MacHale Lee, left, and Maxine Lee, right, were born two months premature on Dec. 4, each weighing fewer than five pounds. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 4 / 4

HOWARD — At home, tucked safely into the crook of their parents' arms, it's hard to tell MacHale and Maxine Lee have already overcome a mountain of odds stacked against them.

The 2-month-old twins now weigh 8 and 7 pounds, approximate weights of newborns, and their tiny bodies barely fill out newborn clothes. But they're healthy, happy and home, a feat remarkable in itself after the pair was born Dec. 4, exactly two months premature.

"It definitely wasn't what we were expecting," said their father, Todd Lee. "They were so small, for a while we were timid to even pick them up, and they were attached to so many machines, we had to ask for help to do it."

Though it is common for twins to be born slightly early — around 37 or 38 weeks gestation — Lee's wife, Su, went into labor in her 30th week. Born so early, doctors feared the twins would suffer from severely underdeveloped lungs and other organs.

But MacHale and Maxine battled.

Both were able to breathe on their own at birth, despite one weighing 4 pounds and the other at 3 pounds, 5 ounces, respectively. From the start, they were as healthy as premature babies can be, but they were forced to stay in the hospital in Sioux Falls for 36 days while doctors monitored their weight gain.

Su stayed with the babies while Lee traveled back and forth to Howard, where he works as Howard School District superintendent.

"That was definitely hard — I didn't really know what to do with myself," Lee said. "Through the whole thing, though, everyone at the hospital and here in town was amazing to us, so that helped."

Despite his worries, Maxine and MacHale thrived.

MacHale gained 60 grams per day, while Maxine lagged a little behind, gaining about 10 grams per day. When they were born, their stomachs were so small, they were only able to eat approximately 5 milliliters of formula. Now, as Maxine closes the weight gap between herself and her brother, they both eat approximately 120 milliliters per feeding, Lee said.

On Jan. 9, Maxine, MacHale and Su were able to go home, still a month before the babies were due. Doctors typically tell parents to expect their premature children to be in the hospital until the scheduled due date, Lee said.

MacHale and Maxine each have their own personalities. MacHale is already a "daddy's boy," his name derived from a former star of Lee's favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics. Maxine is mature, despite being younger by 30 seconds, her parents say, and is better at eating slowly and avoiding reflux issues.

Both sleep well throughout the night, despite having to be wakened every three hours for feeding in the hopes they will continue to grow at a healthy pace.

As they grow, the twins will likely lag behind other children their age in hitting developmental milestones, such as sitting up, crawling and walking. But the Lees aren't worried, remembering their fragile newborns and how much success they've already had.

"We're so lucky to have them," Lee said. "The whole reason we moved back to Howard was to raise a family, and now we have two little ones to do just that."