Meredith and Gary Cooper were looking forward to the birth of their twin daughters, Holly and Heather, but nothing would prepare them for the girls’ surprise arrival at just 24 weeks gestation in April 2009.
“My water broke early, and we still don’t know what caused it,” said Meredith. “We called an ambulance. They performed an ultrasound and discovered there wasn’t enough fluid for my babies to survive. I was taken straight to the emergency department at CHRISTUS Children’s.”
Holly and Heather were delivered via an emergency caesarean section and immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The identical twins each weighed only one pound, 10 ounces.
“I didn’t get to see my babies until nine or 10 hours after delivery,” Meredith added. “When I first saw them, I couldn’t believe how tiny they were. I didn’t know how they were going to survive and I completely fell apart.”
Meredith and Gary were told their little girls were in a fight for their lives. Just hours after birth, Holly’s intestines ruptured and she was taken into surgery. Doctors inserted a colostomy bag and a gastrostomy tube in her abdomen to deliver nutrition directly to her stomach.
“It was amazing when the chaplain, Peggy, came. I remember her taking me into her arms when I couldn’t hold myself together,” Meredith said. “The peace and comfort she provided in that moment was exactly what I needed. Peggy baptized my babies, because we weren’t sure they were going to make it. It was the most incredible, beautiful, and sad moment of our lives.”
Holly survived surgery, but was in a very frail state. Holly and Heather both developed brain bleeds, and less than one week later, both twins had problems with their hearts and needed respirators for breathing assistance. Heather’s health began rapidly declining. While Heather recovered, Holly’s lungs collapsed and she underwent surgery again.
“Every day was a challenge,” said Gary. “Every day was a fight for our babies to survive. Every minute, every second, we didn’t know which, if either, of our babies was going to survive. While one was doing well, the other was doing badly. It was an ongoing emotional rollercoaster.”
Meredith and Gary met with neurosurgeons Dr. Patricia Mancuso, Dr. Kimberly Terry, and Dr. Micam Tullous, who informed the new parents that while Holly was in critical condition, the medical team would do everything in their power to make sure the twins survived.
While Heather was healing from the brain bleeds, Holly was not and underwent surgery again. Surgeons placed a reservoir in her brain to help with swelling and eventually performed an innovative cranial surgery that would allow her skull to grow with her brain. She was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid inside the skull that leads to brain swelling, and failure to thrive.
“I was told that most 24-week preemies do not survive,” Meredith said, “But I knew my babies were in the right place, with the right doctors. The nurses were amazing, too – they gave us so much love and hope. They told me how important my voice was for the health of my babies, so even though I couldn’t hold them, I read to them and sang to them. Their heart rates improved when they heard my voice; it was incredible.”
Heather was released to go home at four months old, while Holly remained in critical condition in the NICU.
“Leaving Heather after we had just taken her home was so hard, but I knew Holly needed me in the NICU. I packed a bag and stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in the hospital,” Meredith said. “It was my home away from home.”
One month later, Holly was released to go home, but began failing again and returned to the hospital one week later. She stayed in the Intermediate Intensive Care Unit for two more months until she grew stronger and went home at six months old.
Now seven years old, Holly has undergone eight resuscitations, 17 brain surgeries, two lung surgeries, two intestinal surgeries, three eye surgeries, one ear, nose and throat surgery, one cranial reconstruction, and still has a tiny hole in her heart.
Holly and Heather continue to see their specialists at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Holly was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and status epilepticus, a condition that causes prolonged seizures. Heather also suffers from Hydrocephalus and has a mild case of cerebral palsy. They continue to grow stronger together and are the best of friends.
“Our girls have an amazing relationship; they are two peas in a pod. Holly’s case is more severe; she looks up to Heather and Heather is an asset to Holly’s growth and stimulation. They are witty and charming and bring so much joy to everyone around them,” Meredith said, “I believe with all my heart that if I hadn’t delivered at CHRISTUS Children’s, my children would not be here today. There are not enough words to express the gratitude Gary and I feel for everyone at CHRISTUS Children’s for caring for our daughters these past seven years. The medical team has become our family. They pray with us and cry with us and celebrate milestones with us. They give us a level of care and love that no other Hospital provides.”