Jennifer Gleba was having a routine ultrasound 23 weeks into her pregnancy when the radiologist realized she was 75 percent effaced and 2 to 3 centimeters dilated.
"They brought me into labor and delivery at Alexian Brothers and the doctor said they're not even viable at this point," Jennifer recalls. She was transferred to Loyola, where doctors began trying to prolong her pregnancy. She was on bedrest, with her head lower than the rest of her.
Her neonatologist, Dr. Jonathan Muraskas, made regular visits.
"He was the first one who came in and told me, Jen, you're at 23 weeks. This is what the status is. At 24 weeks, this is what the statistics are. And our percentages kept going up," Jennifer says. "When I got to 26 weeks, he said 'OK, Jen, I have high hopes. If we can get you to 27 or 28 weeks, I have hope.'"
The twins made it to 26.6 weeks. Kaitlyn was 2 pounds, 4 ounces; Christian weighed in at 2 pounds, 3 ounces. The tiny twins were in the neonatal intensive care unit next to a baby who was 9 pounds. Joseph took one look at that baby, and then at his babies, and said, "We are in so much trouble. They're so fragile."
Jennifer and Joseph rode a roller coaster in the NICU.
"I don't think people understand, every milestone we crossed we were fearful. We had brain bleeds, collapsed lungs. We didn't know if they'd be healthy growing up," Jennifer says.
When both twins finally went home after five months in the hospital, they started physical, occupational and speech therapy. Now 9, both children are small for their age. Interestingly, Kaitlyn looks Filipino like her mother, while Christian looks Polish-American like his father. Christian is showing signs of dyslexia and possibly ADD, and he receives speech and occupational therapy at school, along with a private tutor. "But he is functioning at a third-grade level and has a great personality," Jennifer says.
Kaitlyn is an above-average student with no lingering health problems. "But she is humble and compassionate. She knows her brother struggles, but she just gets along," Jennifer says. "We're very blessed with our kids and I have a profound appreciation for what it could have been."
Sylvia Juraszek was 26 weeks pregnant with twins when she realized something was wrong and went to Resurrection Hospital in Chicago. It didn't take long for doctors to realize one twin's water had broken and the other's had not. Sylvia was rushed to Loyola on Saturday, April 21, 2007.
Nurses began administering steroid shots to accelerate the babies' growth in the womb. They also took Sylvia's husband Michael to the neonatal intensive care unit to show him what was ahead.
"They showed me premature babies and told me the chances are pretty good of survival, but they didn't know what condition," Michael remembers. "They told us all kinds of risks they might face. But things were happening and there was no way of stopping it."
Christopher and Alexander made their appearance Monday, April 23. At about 1 pound, 9 ounces each, their hands were so small Michael could fit his wedding band around them. Their lungs and eyes weren't fully developed.
"The biggest fear the doctors had was bleeding in the brain. They said almost 100 percent of premature babies get some kind of bleeding in the brain, so it's like a stroke," Michael says.
A couple days after birth, doctors told Sylvia and Michael that Alexander had a grade 4 bleed on the left side of his brain, the worst possible.
"They said he'll be in a wheelchair. He could be blind or deaf, because the bleeding was so extensive. He'll have a problem with speech," Michael says. They did offer a slight glimmer of hope, telling Sylvia and Michael there was a possibility another part of the undamaged side of the brain could take over for the damaged portion.
Alexander faced ongoing problems and had surgery to put a shunt in his head to drain fluid. He had three major infections, one he wasn't expected to survive, but he kept fighting.
Christopher, meanwhile, fared better because his amniotic sac hadn't broken when Alexander's did. He didn't suffer any bleeding in his brain and only had one minor infection, Sylvia says.
Eventually, Alexander's health improved and both boys went home in August 2007. With the help of intensive occupational, physical and speech therapy, both boys made significant gains.
Now almost 5, Christopher shows little effect of his early birth other than some vision problems that require glasses. Surprisingly, considering their early start in life, neither boy has exhibited any developmental delays and both are bilingual, speaking English and their parents' native language of Polish.
And, while Alexander continues to have health problems and walks with the aid of braces because of weakness on the right side of his body, his parents consider him nothing short of a miracle.
"If you give them love and time, they will recover," Michael says.
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.