Jamie Friesen has spent countless hours watching her twin sons, Emmett and Eldon, but this time was different.
Gone were the doctors and nurses, the distinct noises of hospital equipment, and the lingering concerns that only a parent could understand. In their place were the sounds of laughter as her three-year-old boys were having fun playing soccer.
Seeing them running around, playing with friends, really hit home, It was so wonderful to sit back and appreciate just how far they’ve come.Back in the spring of 2013, she and her husband, Nathan, weren’t sure it was a milestone they would ever get to celebrate.
From the outset, it had been anything but a normal pregnancy. Jamie, a teacher, had to take sick leave early on after an illness spread through her school. Then, at 18-and-a-half-weeks, the couple learned they were having twins. Fourteen days later, an ultrasound delivered unexpected news. The egg inside her uterus had split late, resulting in Monoamniotic twins. This meant the babies shared the same amniotic sac and placenta within her uterus. Doctors cautioned the couple that there was a high risk of the umbilical cords becoming entangled and they may be forced to deliver the babies early.
Jamie and Nathan immediately met with the director of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Regina General Hospital (RGH) who outlined that severe complications and disabilities were likely if the twins were born before the doctor’s target date of 32 weeks.
“It was definitely an eye opener, that’s for sure,” said Jamie. “It was almost as if it wasn’t real and we could ask for a do over.”
By 26 weeks, Jamie was coming to the RGH for daily nonstress tests to monitor the twins’ fetal heart rates. She admits that many times it was hard to process what was happening.
“I stayed positive, but in many ways it felt like I was stuck in a bad dream,” said Jamie. “This was not the fairy-tale ending we had envisioned when we first learned we were pregnant.”
At 32 weeks, on Sept. 12, Emmett and Eldon were born weighing 3 lbs 1 oz and 3 lbs 7 oz respectively.
With their parents by their side, the twins would spend 28 days in NICU. They underwent a number of treatments to help them grow stronger, including oxygen support, feeding tubes and incubation. While it was a trying time that often left Jamie and Nathan feeling helpless, they marvelled at the excellent care their boys received.
“The doctors and nurses were such great partners. They were there every step of the way,” said Jamie. “They felt like an extension of our family, people who loved our boys and who would go above and beyond for them.”
After nearly a month in NICU, and now a pound heavier, Emmett and Eldon were able to go home.
“We went 28 days with empty car seats. It was very exciting to finally leave the hospital with both our boys,” said Jamie. “They came home Thanksgiving weekend and we joked that our turkey weighed more than they did.”
Two months later, Emmett went for an MRI. Doctors first detected a cyst on his brain during Jamie’s prenatal ultrasounds. Once he grew strong enough, they wanted to take a closer look at what they may be up against. The MRI revealed he was missing the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that allows communication between the two hemispheres.
“It was obviously a shock, but in my heart of hearts I knew he was in good hands,” said Jamie. “We knew a strong plan would be put in place to monitor his development and progress long term.”
Regina’s Pediatric Services, a program Hospitals of Regina Foundation has helped grow into a key centre of care, sees more than 5,000 outpatient pediatric patients every year. It has played a critical role in the twins’ ongoing development. They continue to receive regular checkups, including eye, vision and hearing tests, speech therapy and nutritional assessments. Emmett also sees a pediatric neurologist at RGH to ensure he is progressing at the same rate as his brother. In addition, the two participated in the music therapy program at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre.
“The boys are very active and have a real zest for life,” said Jamie.
“Swimming, soccer, dance lessons, you name it, we can’t slow them down.”
A significant part of those efforts include doing their part to pay it forward. Each year, the duo put their craft-making skills to good use to help raise funds for the Z99 Radiothon. In 2016, they created Christmas cards that they later sold.
“Many people believe that great care only exists in larger centres,” said Jamie. “Regina’s hospitals have played a critical role in the first chapter of Emmett and Eldon’s lives. We wouldn’t think of taking them anywhere else. Thank you to the generous support of the community for helping make this all possible.”