Twin sisters Isla and Eloise Fleming were born at the Women's and Children's Hospital. Weighing only 480 grams, Eloise was so tiny she fit into the palm of her dad's hand.
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Shannon and Nicole Fleming had known from the early stages they would face a complicated pregnancy.
“We were always told that twins were going to be high risk, but in comparison to what we went through, we had no idea,” says Nicole.
At 17 weeks pregnant, Nicole was diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) – a prenatal condition where twins share unequal amounts of the placenta’s blood supply resulting in them growing at different rates. Eloise was receiving less blood flow and as a result the amniotic fluid around her was incredibly low, whereas her sister, Isla, was surrounded in it.
Surgery was required to allow each twin to develop independently. The surgery was high risk and there was a chance that one of the girls would not survive. But if nothing was done, both girls would not make it to birth.
Against the odds, Isla and Eloise survived the surgery, however their challenges were far from over. Isla had developed a heart condition and Eloise received a blockage in her brain. Weekly scans became the new norm, each time Nicole and Shannon just hoped both girls were alive.
“Each week you go in there not knowing if you are going to see two heartbeats or one heartbeat and every week we kept on seeing two,” says Shannon.
At week 28 of the pregnancy, the family and medical team made the decision that if either of the girls were going to survive, they would need to be delivered soon.
At just 29 weeks, on August 22 2018, Nicole gave birth to two beautiful baby girls born at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The twins were born holding one another’s hand. Like is the case with most babies born prematurely the girls were rushed into the Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“NICU is a place where no parent ever wants to be, but once you are there you are so grateful for the people who work there,” says Shannon.
Despite the successful birth of both twins, at nearly four weeks of age the cardiologist advised that Isla’s heart was struggling, and she would require heart surgery.
Heartbreakingly, the morning after the surgery Isla passed away.
Isla's passing was an emotional and heart-breaking time for the whole family, but when asked about the time, Nicole reflects there was a chance during the pregnancy that both twins might not have survived.
“We’re just so grateful for the time that they let us have with Isla and Eloise as twin sisters. We are just so grateful,” says Nicole.
“No-one knows what NICU is until you need NICU. Obviously, we went through the worse experience but at the same time we cherish our time and came out with a healthy little girl and got to meet our twins,” says Shannon.
Eloise spent almost three months in NICU and the Special Care Baby Unit. She was able to go home for the first time in November 2018, with oxygen and a gastric tube for feeding. Eloise was still tiny, weighing 1700 grams.
“We continue to follow up on Eloise’s health issues. Because she was so small, developmentally she still is catching up on her growth. While we were in NICU it was a hard time and a sad time and the NICU staff helped get us through so much. We miss Isla terribly, but we are so grateful for Eloise. We were told that she wouldn’t be here and to have our little miracle by our side is all because of them,” Nicole says.
Every year 4,500* babies are born at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Hundreds, like Isla and Eloise Fleming, will require special medical care to have the best chance at life.
Because of you, over the past five years the WCH Foundation has delivered more than $280,000 in funding to provide the greatest care for the tiniest babies and their families.
This Christmas, your donation can make a real difference by providing support to families like the Flemings during what is an incredibly emotional time.