A Double Christmas Miracle
Before Rhiannon Needham was able to hold her newborn twins, six weeks passed.
“They were just so little,” she remembers. “They didn’t look like they belonged here yet.”
Her twins, Olive and Archer, were born by emergency C-section on July 19, 2022.
Up to this point, Rhiannon had what she describes as an uneventful pregnancy. At 24 weeks, she was working as a hairdresser and super active. She had no complications. She was healthy, and as far as she knew from her doctors, her babies were healthy, too. Then her water broke. “My body was just protecting itself. I didn’t expect it to be that early,” she said.
Pregnancy Goes from Normal to High Risk
She rushed to the local ER near her home in San Marcos. Doctors got her stabilized but quickly determined she was going to need advanced maternal care for the remainder of her pregnancy.
Rhiannon said doctors recommended that she go to CHRISTUS Children’s because doctors there specialize in high-risk pregnancies and have a Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) that offers the highest level of care for critically ill and premature babies.
At 24 weeks, Rhiannon was transported to CHRISTUS Children’s and after a drive of nearly an hour, this first-time mom was immediately admitted, treated, stabilized and placed on bedrest. Her anxiety, however, was building. Doctors told her she was leaking amniotic fluid. Just days after being admitted to the hospital, doctors realized her placenta was beginning to detach, which is a serious pregnancy complication that can cause severe bleeding for the mother and deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients. Then one of the twin’s heartbeats began to slow.
For Rhiannon, everything else that occurred next was a blur.
Time for an Emergency C-Section
“Five minutes later, it was happening quick!,” Rhiannon said. Doctors were performing the emergency C-section to make sure each baby had the greatest possible chance of survival. They were so tiny at birth that their weight was measured in grams, not pounds and ounces. Each baby weighed just 619 grams. That’s the equivalent of less than a pound and a half. (1.38 pounds). “They were where they needed to be as soon as they came,” she remembers.
Both babies were immediately transferred to the NICU, where they were monitored closely under the guidance of Dr. Maria Pierce, a board-certified perinatal-neonatal medicine physician at CHRISTUS Children’s.
Olive’s first ultrasound showed some blood in the ventricles of her brain. Her repeat ultrasound was stable, but an MRI would be needed to take a closer look at her brain. She was too tiny for an MRI. Doctors told Rhiannon the next several weeks would be a good predictor of survival and disabilities for life. At one point, doctors prepared Rhiannon for the worst.
“It was horrifying,” she said. “I agonized over the potential decision I might have to make should doctors come back with test results without promise.” After a short time, though, the brain bleed resolved itself. It just took time. It took prayer. It took the skillful experience of doctors, nurses and staff at CHRISTUS Children’s. “Thankfully it wasn’t as serious as it could have been,” she remembers.
More Time to Grow
There were other complications related to their premature births. Both infants needed repeated blood transfusions due to low hemoglobin levels. Both required eye surgery to ensure they would be able to see. Olive and Archer had to remain intubated and in isolettes. Because they were born way too early, their little bodies needed time to grow and become stronger.
It was a very stressful time. Rhiannon and her husband spent as much time as possible at the hospital. She decided not to work because doing so would have been just too stressful. They stayed at the Ronald McDonald House located inside the hospital and just one floor up from the NICU. Its proximity helped them stay close to the babies, limiting the number of trips home, helping them maximize the time they could spend with the twins.
Olive and Archer spent 157 days in the NICU.
Finally Holding the Twins
Rhiannon remembers the very first time she was able to hold her babies. “As corny as it sounds, holding them for the first time after that long, it felt like all was right in the world,” she says. “I felt like everything was going to be OK. Even if it wasn’t, at least I was able to hold them now. I was so worried that something bad would happen and I would have never been able to even hold them.”
Before the babies could go home, they had to reach certain developmental milestones. Since they were intubated for a long time, the twins had to learn how to eat by coordinating sucking, swallowing and breathing. In due time, both babies did well and made considerable progress.
Then, just days before Christmas, doctors gave Rhiannon the best news: the babies were ready to go home.
Olive was discharged December 23 and Archer went home the next day. The best part of all - both babies made it home just in time for Christmas Eve.
The entire family was finally under one roof for good,” said Rhiannon, “It was one of the best Christmas gifts we ever received.
On Christmas Day, Rhiannon says she and her husband James just sat and stared at each other and the children. She remembers thinking: It was a Christmas miracle.
Looking back, Rhiannon says she wouldn’t change a thing. A double Christmas miracle – of which she will be reminded for the rest of her life.
“Olive and Archer are now 7 months old,” said Rhiannon. “They are happy babies and they love to eat. They now weigh a whopping 13 pounds! They are getting bigger and stronger every day. I am just grateful for the wonderful doctors and nurses who cared for them at Children’s Hospital.”