The smallest twins born in Britain this year with a combined weight of a bag of sugar have made a miraculous recovery – and are back home in time for Christmas.
Super-cute Ava and Isla Bowen were born in July at just 26 weeks into pregnancy – each weighing less than 2lbs.
Both twins had to be put on ventilators as they were too small to breathe for themselves.
At birth Ava weighed 788 grams and Isla just 500 grams – the combined weight of just over a 1kg bag of sugar.
First-time parents Rochelle Bowen and Patrick Ward have been through a “rollercoaster” since the birth of their daughters who spent three months in hospital.
But to their parents’ relief, both Ava and Isla are now out of hospital and back at home for their first Christmas.
“It has been a long struggle for the two of them,” said mum Rochelle, 31, from St Andrews, Bristol.
“At times we really didn’t think Isla would make it – but she did. I still can’t believe she’s here really. She’s amazing, she’s literally a miracle baby.”
Rochelle said she and Patrick knew from their first scan at 12 weeks that something was wrong.
“Isla’s growth was a week behind – which is serious that early in the pregnancy,” she said.
Rochelle said doctors told her that the babies had to get to at least 28 weeks in order to survive – and that she was sent to see a specialist in London to discuss termination.
“As time went on Isla was three or four weeks behind in development,” said Rochelle.
“The problem was that if she had died in the womb then her sister could’ve had brain damage because they share the same blood flow.”
But she added: “I just took it week by week. And when I got to week 25 I thought, this is amazing. I never thought we’d get to this stage.”
But at 26 weeks the dreaded day came – Rochelle and Patrick were told Isla had stopped growing, and Rochelle was admitted to hospital for two-hourly monitoring.
At 26 weeks and three days, the decision was made to carry out an emergency caesarean.
Ava and Isla were delivered around 11am on July 7 at Southmead Hospital – and were whisked straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Rochelle said: “I was petrified of seeing them because they were so small but they looked perfectly formed, just smaller.
“I actually thought Isla was going to be tinier than she was. I was expecting her to be around 14oz, but she was born at 17oz.
“I wasn’t allowed to see them until 8pm that night then it was another three weeks before I got to hold Isla.”
But that wasn’t the end of the battle for the twins – particularly Isla, who continued to suffer a string of health problems.
“Isla needed to be on a ventilator to breathe for over seven and a half weeks because she wasn’t big or strong enough to breathe by herself,” said Rochelle.
“Then her lungs collapsed and we thought that was it, that she wasn’t going to make it – I was really scared.”
But as the health problems kept on coming, baby Isla and the dedicated team of NICU staff kept battling through them.
“She had a problem with one of her heart valves, and then she had to have eye surgery because she was going blind,” Rochelle added.
“They said it was her sight, her heart, her lungs. But they just kept doing everything they could.
“She’s literally a miracle baby, with everything she’s had to go through.”
Isla spent a total of 112 days in the NICU, with her twin sister Ava going home two weeks before her, after 99 days on the unit.
“I think when Ava came home Isla missed her twin and wanted to be home with her,” said Rochelle.
“They were in a cot together the whole time in hospital, so we think that when Ava left, Isla must have known.
“She turned a corner better than anyone thought she would.”
And although the twins are still attending regular check-ups at Southmead Hospital, Rochelle said they are now progressing well and getting bigger and stronger by the day.
Ava is now weighing a healthy eight pound 10 ounces with Isla reaching six pounds five ounces.
And most importantly, neither of the twins has any signs of long-term effects of prematurity including brain bleeds or cerebral palsy.
“They’re just like normal babies now,” said their mother.
“Isla is still on a bit of oxygen, and she’s never going to be an Olympic athlete, but she’ll be able to play sports and things like that.”
Rochelle and Patrick have also praised the “unbelievable” staff at Southmead Hospital for keeping the girls alive and well.
Rochelle said: “Southmead were unbelievable. I didn’t even know what NICU was before I got pregnant but I’m so thankful that we live so close to that hospital.
“It’s such an amazing place. The days and months spent in the neonatal unit takes its toll on a family. But we were lucky, we feel really lucky.
“It is hard to be in the hospital every day having to leave them all the time, so it’s nice to have them home. Now I can cuddle them and feed them all the time.”
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital has among the best survival rates in the UK for extreme pre-term babies in a non-surgical unit.
MBRRACE UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risks through Audits and Confidential Enquiries) have found that more extremely premature babies survive in the unit than the national average