Last month, Dysart, Iowa, saw a very special occasion when, against all odds, the world’s most premature twins celebrated their second birthday.
Kambry and Keeley Ewoldt are identical twins born on Nov. 24, 2018. However, their mother, Jade Ewoldt, actually had a due date of March 29, 2019, meaning that they were born around week 22 of the pregnancy.
At birth, they weighed just 15.8 ounces (approx. 448 g) and 1 pound 1.3 ounces (approx. 490 g), respectively. They entered the world fighting to survive, spending the first four months of their lives in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, after which they were allowed home, reported USA Today.
Guinness World Records recognized them as the World’s Most Premature Twins, and reported on their first birthday. Their survival was described by doctors as “miraculous.”
The twins, excited to be celebrating their second birthday, probably did not realize that, at birth, it was a milestone that was far from guaranteed.
Jade Ewoldt, already a mother of two children, Koy and Kollins, knew twins were risky. Sadly, the risks materialized, and at 16 weeks, doctors told Ewoldt her daughters had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), where they were sharing blood through blood vessels in the womb. Left untreated, it could be fatal.
“[TTTS] is also very rare,” Dr. Jonathan Klein, a neonatologist and medical director of the NICU at the hospital, told AP in January 2019. “A lot of patients pass away before they are even born.”
Surgery was performed at 17 weeks in Cincinnati, and about a month later, on Nov. 24, the twins were born.
Their hospitalization over the next few months meant a two-hour round-trip commute almost every day for Ewoldt from her home in Dysart. She says she was operating in “survival mode.”
“It was hard to leave the NICU knowing that I was having to compartmentalize life,” she said. “Leaving behind the twins, knowing I couldn’t take them home was painful and then [I was] going home to be with my other kids and shutting off thinking about the twins when I was with them.”
The early birth meant they didn’t develop full lung function in utero, and the twins were diagnosed with severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease making breathing difficult.
Until November this year, they had required oxygen through nasal cannulas almost their entire lives. Their lung development, however, has gone “extremely well,” Dr. Klein told the Des Moines Register.
He added, “I would consider anytime babies like this on the cusp of viability survive, that it’s a pretty amazing situation, and it’s a huge dedication to a large team.”
Life continued to throw curveballs at the Ewoldts even after the twins got home. Being so premature meant the twins are more susceptible to illness, and they had six hospital stays for common colds last year.
“Something you or I would get the sniffles over would put them in the ICU,” Ewoldt said.
Now the pandemic is here, though the family were already taking precautions against any sickness by mostly staying indoors. Jade knows it’s not perfect, but at least they are together.
“I still feel torn between the two sets of kids, but at least I know, at the end of the day, the older kids get to do normal things where the twins get to stay healthy and I don’t have to decide between the two,” she said.
November was a significant month for the family, being the twins’ birthday month—and that of their older sister, Kollins, who turned 5 on Nov. 30. World Prematurity Day, founded by March of Dimes to support families of premature babies, was also on the 17th, and November is Prematurity Awareness Month.
Sadly, it is also the month that Jade lost her sister in a car crash, last year, on Kollins’s birthday. The twins’ birthday has been dedicated to her.
With nearly 10,000 Facebook followers, Ewoldt hopes their experience of TTTS can reach and support families going through similar struggles.
“If our story can help save another baby, then it’s really important to continue to share,” she said.
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