Miracle babies: Burnley parents pay tribute to life-saving doctors after twins are born after just 26 weeks

Stephen, Evie, April, and Lindsay.
Stephen, Evie, April, and Lindsay.

The Burnley parents of miracle twins born after just 26 weeks with rare birth defects and weighing just 3lb 6oz between them have paid tribute to staff at Saint Mary’s Hospital and Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital for their specialist care.

Now home for Christmas following life-saving surgery and care, twins April and Evie were both born with the rare birth defect Oesophageal Atresia (OA) with Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula (TOF), which affects approximately one in every 4,000 newborns. Mother Lindsay went into labour without realising at 26 weeks, almost four months early, in February this year.

(From left) Neonatologist on NICU Ruth Gottstein, RMCH Consultant Surgeon Nick Lansdale, Mum Lindsay holding April, Dad Stephen holding Evie, RMCH Consultant Surgeon David Wilkinson, and Anaesthetist Catherine Doherty.

(From left) Neonatologist on NICU Ruth Gottstein, RMCH Consultant Surgeon Nick Lansdale, Mum Lindsay holding April, Dad Stephen holding Evie, RMCH Consultant Surgeon David Wilkinson, and Anaesthetist Catherine Doherty.

After an emergency caesarean at Burnley General Hospital, the twins - weighing 720g (1lb 9oz) and 820g (1lb 13oz) - were promptly transferred to Saint Mary’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit with parents Lindsay and Stephen, where they were provided with one-to-one surgical and medical care. The defect meant that they could not swallow as their oesophagi (the tube to transfer food to the stomach) was not connected, a condition which can cause choking and pneumonia if not treated.

“The work that is carried out between the teams across both hospitals in amazing, and the nurses and surgical teams are incredible," said Stephen and Lindsay, who live in Burnley. "I cannot thank them enough for their ongoing care and compassion throughout one of the most difficult times for us. They never gave up hope and the girls are now our little miracles.”

Consultant Surgeons David Wilkinson and Nick Lansdale operated on one baby each as an emergency case which, due to their extremely low birthweight, was incredibly challenging but ultimately successful as April and Evie were fitted with a gastrostomy. RMCH operates on approximately 15 babies per year with the rare congenital condition, but this was just the third set of twins operated on with the defect.

After they had grown sufficiently, April and Evie were taken for their second round of major surgery at the capable hands of David Wilkinson and Nick Lansdale to allow the twins to feed normally. While April showed signs of improvement immediately, Evie - after more than six hours in theatre - became critically unwell and almost didn’t make it. She spent ten weeks on a ventilator and was resuscitated by the team multiple times, requiring very intensive nursing care.

April and Evie

April and Evie

“Oesophageal Atresia affecting both twins is extremely rare," said Nick Lansdale, Consultant Neonatal Surgeon at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. "April and Evie’s surgery was made challenging by their tiny size at birth, with each twin’s oesophagus being approximately the diameter of a piece of spaghetti. Their outcomes are a tribute to the wider Manchester Neonatal Surgery Multi-Disciplinary Teams and their family’s support.”

Ruth Gottstein, Neonatologist at Saint Mary’s Hospital added: “It was a real challenge to look after these incredibly premature twins with such a rare surgical diagnosis. We had to use all our expertise to ensure their health progressed so that we could get them home with their family.

"Evie was a bit more of a challenge than her sister as we had to put her on a life support machine, but they were both little fighters and amazing little girls.”

For five months, the parents lived onsite at Ronald McDonald House, making it much easier to visit the girls at any time and putting their minds at ease. April went to live with her parents for four weeks until Evie was was also discharged in July. The family are now adapting to their new routines.

“The whole team on NICU were just amazing and never gave up hope for Evie, which is what we needed," said Lindsay. "We nearly lost her on a few occasions and she was resuscitated more times than we like to remember but she pulled through and we are so proud of them both.

“To all of the nurses, doctors, surgeons, and anaesthetists that have helped us through this year, I cannot thank you enough for your support that you have provided us," she added. “Even when we visit now for check-ups, we feel so welcome and the staff within the hospital make us feel like family.

"I don’t know how we would have got through this challenging time without you all. April and Evie are doing great and we are so pleased to have them both in good health and home for their first Christmas after a challenging year for us all.”

April and Evie will attend the hospital for check-ups at the specialist Oeosphageal Atresia clinic at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital every couple of months until they are adults. The family returned to the hospital today to take part in some of the Christmas festivities and to meet up with some of the specialists and surgeons who have helped them through this year.