After two miscarriages, Gina Howell learned she was pregnant with twins in May 2018.
“I was nervous and excited,” she shared. “It was not an easy pregnancy; I bled throughout. I also had frequent ultrasounds to make sure the babies were doing well.”
Then Gina went into preterm labor on Sept. 28. The twins were only around 23 weeks gestation.
“I’d had back pain, which is pretty normal for me, so I didn’t think much of it at first. But it got so bad I couldn’t even lie down. I could tell something was happening.”
Gina and her husband started driving to Aurora West Allis Medical Center, where she planned to deliver. It was less than 20 minutes from their home, but she knew they wouldn’t make it there in time.
“I knew that the twins would need to be born at a hospital with a level III NICU for their best chance of survival,” she said. “I was literally on my phone searching for the closest one.”
They made it to the nearest hospital, where the twins were delivered in under an hour. Finn weighed 1 lb., 8 oz. and Wade was 1 lb., 7 oz.
“The boys were taken away immediately, and then it was just my husband and me. The next day, they were both transferred to Aurora Sinai Medical Center to receive a higher level of care.”
Wade was initially sicker than Finn. But in their second week in the NICU, Finn had a very serious infection. A scan showed a bleed in his brain. Then he was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, or PVL.
“Basically, the infection had caused holes throughout his brain,” explained Gina. “If the PVL is only in one hemisphere, the brain might compensate, but it can lead to cerebral palsy and other complications. In Finn’s case, the PVL covered his entire brain.”
Finn was transferred to a level IV NICU, where doctors discovered more problems.
“He was diagnosed with lissencephaly, a condition where the brain is smooth instead of grooved. And his brain was split in half,” Gina explained. “We were told he’d likely be deaf, blind and paralyzed from the neck down. He’d probably never smile. And he’d be in pain.”
The Howells had to make an impossible choice: whether to keep their baby on life support.
“It was not an easy decision, but it seemed like a clear one – we’d have to take him off life support. We spent a couple of hours with him as he died. Then we were back in survival mode. We still had a baby in the NICU to care for.”
After two more months in the NICU, Wade was finally able to come home.
Gina and her husband wanted to celebrate the boys’ first birthday by giving back. With help from their family and friends, they collected 750 books to donate to the NICUs at Aurora Sinai and Aurora West Allis.
“The reason I gravitated to books was that reading was all we could do for the boys when they were first born. We couldn’t hold them until they were a month old,” she explained. “And there are studies that show reading to preemies and micro-preemies is beneficial.”
Last year, Gina raised funds to transform the pump room at Aurora Sinai into a more welcoming and comfortable place for mothers to pump breastmilk.
Wade is now a thriving 3-year-old. And last April, Gina gave birth to a full-term, healthy baby girl.
“We named her Finley in honor of her big brother, Finn.”
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