Reese and her twin sister, Ryleigh, were born three months premature weighing only two pounds each. They are survivors of the very rare twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) and required fetal surgery at only 18 weeks gestation. Reese became very ill after birth and required long-term intubation. As a result, she developed scar tissue in her trachea causing complete blockage of her airway. She was flown to the University of Michigan where they placed a tracheotomy tube to allow her to breath. Reese had several other complications which required her to remain hospitalized until she was 11 months old. At home, she required ventilator assistance until she was 2 and today still has a feeding tube. She has had dozens of operations and procedures, including a stomach surgery, a heart catheterization to open a closed valve and removal of her right middle lung.
In order to be rid of her trach, Reese required reconstruction of her airway, which would enable her to laugh, eat solid foods and take part in activities such as swimming. She was sent to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where Robin Cotton, MD, pioneered an airway reconstruction procedure. Even though the hospital is seven hours from the Sunderlands’ home in Michigan, the family traveled to Cincinnati for Reese’s first airway reconstruction surgery in August 2010. The first airway reconstruction was unsuccessful, and a second attempt was made in May 2011. This time, pieces of Reese's rib cartilage were grafted to reconstruct her trachea. She came out of that surgery without her tracheotomy tube in place, but is intubated to allow for healing of the new airway.