Defying the odds
Their names are Thaddeus Ison and Quinntin Ouran, fraternal twin boys with big names to match their growing personalities.
Holding the now seven-month-old babies – nicknamed Mister T and Master Q – it's difficult to fathom that at birth they were about the length of a pencil.
Born at 23 weeks (four months early), Quinntin, the larger of the two, weighed 570 grams (1.3 pounds) while his brother was 405 grams (0.9 pounds) – small enough to be cupped in their father's hand.
"Every day I'm so amazed at their progress," says first-time mom Christine Ashton. "It's a total miracle."
Last October, she was into the second trimester of what had been a "normal" pregnancy when she started to feel sick and got a headache. When the on-and-off pain didn't subside, she called a relative who had three children of her own. The description sounded a lot like labour pain and she rushed Ashton from her home in North Surrey to Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) 15 minutes away. Her babies weren't due until February.
Ashton was immediately hospitalized and given medication to slow labour, and more than one doctor came to her room to warn her the odds of her babies surviving weren't good. Very few twins are born at 24 weeks in Canada each year and the statistics are even lower for twins born at 23 weeks, like hers.
"It was way too soon," she remembers. "I just wanted them to stay inside me. Every day I'd be curled up in a ball, praying."
But within three days, she had an emergency Caesarean section and her so called "micro-preemies" entered the world.
Thaddeus was the first out. He cried immediately and the doctor was able to show him to Ashton. Quinntin, however, was in distress and was whisked away for further medical attention. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that she was able to see both of her baby boys, which brought both relief and concern.
"I was kind of in shock," she says. "I wondered, 'how does a baby that small survive?' "
Seven months later, she knows.
The care her precious preemies received in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at RCH was life-saving, she says, from the expert staff to the state-of-the-art equipment.
Both her boys spent time on ventilators, including what's called a jet ventilator, which increases the respiratory rate more gently than a standard ventilator. The RCH Foundation was only recently able to purchase two jet ventilators, one thanks to the TB Vets Charitable Foundation, and the other through contributions from various donors.
After 188 days in hospital, Ashton and her husband were allowed to take the boys home on the Easter weekend, happy to welcome the start of their new life, but frightened to leave the security of the hospital.
"I was crying because I was sad (to say goodbye to the staff) and scared because I knew I didn't have all the nurses there to help me," says the new mom.
Quinntin is now 11 pounds, eight ounces, while Thaddeus is slightly smaller at 11 pounds, 3 ounces.
Quinntin, who has a chronic lung condition and a heart condition, remains on oxygen, while Thaddeus has a feeding tube to boost his milk intake. But both are otherwise healthy and exhibiting normal development for their age – which, had they been born on their due date, would only be three months. At-home nurse assistance will continue daily for about a year.
Both arms full with her squirming boys, Ashton smiles, knowing how fortunate she was to celebrate her first Mother's Day with them last weekend.
"I'm so proud of them."