Little man, big sacrifice

Harry gave his life so his twin could live

Published by: Victoria Williams and Jean Jollands
Published on: 19 July 2012

My heart thumped with excitement. ‘It's mad, isn't it?' I giggled to my hubby Chris, 30.
‘You're definitely expecting twins!' the sonographer confirmed, pointing at two tiny bean shapes on the screen.
‘Wow,' Chris chuckled, gobsmacked. ‘It's like buses - you wait ages for one...!'
We'd been trying for kids for two years, and now here I was at my 13-week scan being told I was having non-identical twins!
‘We'll have to move, because this house won't be big enough,' I babbled to Chris back home, as we excitedly re-read all the baby leaflets the midwife had given us.
I spent the next two weeks like that. One day, I was padding into the kitchen, head in yet another baby book, when... eurgh, I'd wet myself!
When it happened again later that day, I rang my mum Dorothy, 54. ‘No harm in getting it checked out, love,' she said.
So Chris drove me to hospital. The look on the consultant's face said it all. ‘Your waters have broken,' she admitted.
‘She's only 15 weeks along!' Chris blurted, horrified.
‘You'll probably go into labour in the next few days,' stressed the consultant, gently. My babies would never survive.
‘This isn't fair,' I sobbed. ‘Why is this happening to us?'
Heartbroken, Chris held my hand as we prayed for a miracle. And it seemed we got one. Because, hours later, I still hadn't gone into labour. A scan showed that the waters around one of my babies - which we discovered were boys - had broken. But the fluid around the other was still intact, and he was developing normally. ‘Maybe there's still a chance...?' I whispered to Chris.
I was kept in hospital for four days. But though I still didn't go into labour, doctors admitted we had two stark choices.
‘You can terminate the pregnancy, or you can continue...' one began. ‘But the chances of you carrying your babies long enough for even one of them to survive are very, very slim.'
For us, there was
no choice. ‘We'll carry on,' we insisted.
We held firm, even when the doctor explained that although neither of the babies' prospects were good, the smaller one's were even worse. With no amniotic fluid protecting him, there was virtually no chance of survival. He could die inside my womb at any point. ‘And if that happens, the risk of infection will be so high, you'll lose both babies,' they stressed.
It was vital he hung on for as long as he could to give his brother even a chance of survival.
Shell-shocked, I was sent home and told to come back every two weeks so doctors could monitor my progress. There, I sadly picked up the baby pamphlets we'd been reading just days before, and tucked them in a drawer.
But at my 20-week scan... my boys were still alive! The doctors were stunned. ‘Babies born after 26 weeks have about 70 per cent chance of survival,' the consultant admitted.
So I made that my goal. Chris and I were both vets, so I threw myself into light tasks at work to stop thinking about the battle ahead. Mentally, I ticked off the days - every Monday, my boys had survived another week.
‘Come on my darlings,' I'd whisper, rubbing my tummy. ‘Hang on for Mummy.'
At 26 weeks, I was sat on the couch, when I felt an almighty kick below my belly button. From the position, I knew it was the stronger of our sons. ‘Quick,' I said to Chris, placing his hands on my belly.
Then came another tiny flutter of movement. His twin was kicking, too. ‘It's a sign he's still fighting,' Chris smiled.
I'd made it to 27 weeks and five days when my contractions began and I started bleeding. At the hospital, doctors performed an emergency Caesarean.
Harry was born first, whisked away immediately by doctors. Then came James. Like his brother, he was tiny - they both weighed exactly 2lb 4oz. But I noticed James's skin had a flush of pink.
‘At least they're with us, now,' I murmured to Chris, as James was taken away, too.
A few hours later, I was well enough to see them. They were both on incubators, tubes dotting their little bodies.
My heart wrenched when I saw Harry, his skin blue-grey, his little chest almost flat. ‘My brave, brave boy,' I whispered. He'd fought to live, giving his brother a chance of life, too. James's chest looked rounder, stronger.
‘James is putting up a good fight,' the consultant confirmed. ‘But it's one day at a time.'
If Harry just hung on long enough, he'd beat the doctor's odds. Six hours later, Chris and I snatched a few hours sleep. It seemed like seconds later I was being woken by a nurse - Harry was fading fast.
Rushing to his side, I picked up my son and cuddled him for the first time. And the last. ‘We'll always love you,' I wept. ‘Thank you for looking after your brother. Without you, he'd have died.'
His tiny chest rose, fell, rose, fell... And he was gone. He'd only lived for six hours.
Heartbroken, we poured our grief into willing James on. We couldn't lose him, too - not after Harry's sacrifice. ‘Come on, darling,' I begged him.
A week later, a doctor took us aside. ‘The blood vessel leading to James's heart hasn't closed after birth as it should have done,' he admitted. ‘Blood is flooding his lungs.'
‘No, this isn't happening,' I cried, breaking down in Chris's arms. They'd try medication to close it.
As James battled, we buried Harry with a picture of James, me and his daddy. ‘So you'll never be alone,' I whispered.
Would I be burying another little one soon? The medication wasn't working on James. ‘He needs open heart surgery,' the doctor insisted. ‘There's a chance he won't survive the op.'
‘I couldn't bear to lose them both,' I sobbed. Please let Harry still be watching over his brother, protecting him.
He was - because James's op was a success. Soon after that, he was taken off his ventilator and I was allowed to cuddle him for the very first time!
‘I never want to let you go,' I smiled. It was the most amazing feeling of my life.
At 11 weeks, weighing 4lb 8oz, he was finally strong enough to come home.
He's six months old now, a lively, stubborn little thing. So much of that is thanks to his twin and, one day, we'll tell James all about him. We've got a memory box that has the little white hat and name tag Harry wore in hospital. We'll never forget the massive sacrifice little Harry made to save his brother.

Victoria Dixon, 31, Penrith, Cumbria