Twin girls Ava and Nova are almost nine months old now, growing big, healthy and strong. It’s a far cry from the nervousness that led up to their births.
Ava and Nova are known as monochorionic monoamniotic twins, or MoMo twins, which means they shared one placenta and one amniotic sac. That occurs in about 1 in 8,000 twin pregnancies, and it made Courtney Hills’ pregnancy a high-risk one. So much so that she spent 40 days in the hospital before the babies were born.
“We had quite a few scares in the 40 days that I was there,” Hills said. “There were probably five or six points in time where they thought it might happen then and there. They hooked me up to IVs and the doctors and nurses were pacing, waiting.”
Courtney was just 28 weeks pregnant when the girls were born. Ava was 3 lbs., 2 oz. Nova was 2 lbs., 5 oz. They would spend the first 73 days of their lives in the NICU.
“We look back at pictures and video of that time, and it just feels so surreal when we look at them now,” said Matthew Hills, the twins’ father. “In a way it seems like it was yesterday and another way, it seems like it was a lifetime ago.”
“We feel so lucky that we happen to live in the town that has such an incredible NICU,” said Courtney. “I know that so many people live out of town or far away from a facility like this. Having to travel every day to the NICU to go see their babies would be just an extra added stress.”
Another family’s NICU journey
That’s where Mark and Claudia Thompson come in.
Their granddaughter was born prematurely. And with no other NICU closer to home at that time able to handle her care, little Emma — who was born 1 lb., 10 oz. — spent 117 days in the NICU at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital.
Emma is now 18 years old and healthy.
“Life sometimes takes you on a journey that you never expected you would be on,” said Claudia Thompson. “Emma had some of the most amazing care. We want the same kind of experience for people in Bismarck going through what we did to have the equipment, to have the surroundings. We already have great doctors and nurses and technicians. We need a place though. And so that was our beginning.”
The Thompsons raised money, and eventually donated $500,000 to the Sanford Health Foundation. Today, their names grace the entrance to the NICU in Bismarck.
“I was watching my daughter that whole time thinking everything else in her life that has been a tough situation, there was always something we could do,” said Mark Thompson. “There was nothing we could do. It was a helpless feeling. So we wanted to turn that into a positive. So we did.”
Matthew and Courtney saw that name on the wall and decided they wanted to reach out.
“I thought, you know, this would be really fun for me to just call them out of the blue and say thank you,” said Matthew.
Shared experience & friendship
“He just said, ‘It’s amazing the care that we’ve gotten, the equipment that they have here at this facility. And I just can’t thank you enough.’ I mean, I just almost started to cry, because I felt so good about that,” said Claudia.
As they continued to talk, they shared their stories with each other. They realized that Ava and Nova had been born on Mark’s 75th birthday. And they even saw similarities in some old photos.
“He was sending us some pictures of the girls, and honestly my heart skipped a beat because they looked so much like our granddaughter at that same age,” Claudia said.
Now the two families stay in touch. Claudia has given the girls children’s books from her personal library, and they’ve met multiple times. Having the Hills twins bounce in their laps today brings back a flood of memories from the Thompsons’ own journey.
“It brings the emotions from them and the memories from our own granddaughter back,” Mark said. “You lived on the edge of catastrophe all the time.
“During that long period of time, we spent a lot of time analyzing the little things at that children’s hospital that we hadn’t seen any place else,” said Mark. “Collages with the little tiny fingerprints and the little tiny hand prints of micro preemies. Then maybe another picture of each of those children when they were five or six and maybe nine or ten. But the very last one had the girl in a cap and gown. That gave you hope.”
This spring, Emma will don her cap and gown. And thanks to the Thompsons and the caregivers at Sanford Bismarck, Ava and Nova are well on their way, too.
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