By Aaron Reiss
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Shani approached the isolette that held Nathan, who weighed just less than three pounds. Medical personnel and the film crew surrounded the baby. Major-Kincade told Shani that Nathan had suffered an "acute deterioration" and asked if she wanted to call Chad back to the hospital. Shani nodded yes, then asked the doctor what would happen next.
"If he survives, that means he's going to have some brain damage, but I don't know that he's going to be able to survive, because he's still very unstable," said Major-Kincade, her voice firm but gentle.
Shani stared at the doctor.
"He might not survive, you're saying?" asked Shani. When Major-Kincade nodded yes, Shani began to sink to the floor, only to be caught by two nurses.
"Oh, God, Jesus!" she screamed, holding her left hand to her face as she began to cry. "Why is this happening to me and my baby? It's something I did, I just There's no reason for this to happen!"
As the hospital staff tried to reassure her, Shani's voice grew louder and her sobbing heavier.
"Don't take my baby, please, take me!" she shrieked, staring at Nathan in the isolette. "Take me! I don't care!"
Some of the nurses surrounding Shani started to cry along with her. Eventually, the doctor started crying, too. Chad returned to the hospital and raced to the NICU. The film crew was still there, hovering in the background with their equipment running, even after Chad asked them for some privacy. But the cameras, say Chad and Shani, were the last thing on their minds. In fact, Shani says she was so distraught that she can't even remember some of the conversations she had that night.
The evening progressed, Nathan's condition grew worse, and doctors finally told the couple that the best thing to do would be to take Nathan off life support and let him go peacefully. In the early hours of November 28, the tiny baby died.
It was the worst night of Chad and Shani Walter's lives, full of private, painful moments they say they never wanted to share with anyone else. But seven months after it happened, 6.2 million Americans sat down on their living room couches and watched the whole thing on TV.
The nursery in Chad and Shani's home still holds the promise of two babies. There are two cribs, both decorated with Noah's ark bedding that the thrifty Shani found on eBay, and there are enough toys and stuffed animals for two children, artfully arranged on shelves and dressers.
Grant, the surviving twin who came home in late January, is in good health. He likes to stick out his tongue and watch Baby Mozart videotapes -- kid-friendly images set to classical music. After their experiences in the NICU, Chad and Shani are very protective of him. When visitors come over, Shani politely asks them not to touch Grant, and they try to keep their two big dogs away from his play area. Since Nathan died, it's been a difficult nine months.
"There are three parts to the loss," says Shani, a Dallas native. "The loss we feel from losing Nathan, the loss we feel from losing twins, and we feel a loss for Grant. Some days, one loss is worse than the other."
But they say the losses were only intensified because of the treatment they received from both Memorial Hermann Hospital and New Screen Concepts, Inc., the Connecticut-based company that produced Houston Medical for ABC. The Walters say they were exploited and taken advantage of not only when New Screen Concepts obtained consent to film them during a time of emotional duress, but after filming as well. According to the Walters, New Screen promised the couple several times that the family would receive all the footage taken of Nathan and Grant before Houston Medical aired. The company never delivered.
"It has hurt us so much, what we went through," says Chad, who often has to stop speaking to fight off tears when he talks about what happened to his family.
Chad and Shani say that shortly after Nathan died they asked Mitchell Horn, a producer for New Screen Concepts, if they could have copies of the footage. They had little record of Nathan's short life, and the film crew had captured the baby's baptism. Plus, the footage just seemed like something very personal, and Chad and Shani thought they had a right to it. Both say that at this time they were still under the impression that the film crew had been focusing on Major-Kincade, and that their son would be shown only in the background.
"I said, 'Mitch, when this is all over can we get the footage?' and he said, 'Yeah, yeah,' " remembers Chad. "They were so nice."
But after Nathan's death, Chad and Shani say, strange things began happening in the NICU. The film crew began stopping by with cameras in tow to check in on Grant, sometimes when Chad and Shani weren't there. Shani says sometimes she would be sitting with Grant in the nursery and the phone would ring. A nurse would answer it, and the person on the other end of the line would ask about Grant Walter's condition.