My wife Jen and I had booked a holiday to New York for August 2009 and then we found out we would be about 24 weeks pregnant with twins whilst over there.
We were still pretty keen to have one more baby-free holiday so, with the blessing of our doctor and fully paid up travel insurance we headed off to the bright lights of the big city.
About 10 days into our trip, Jen went into labour and we were rushed to hospital and eventually transferred to Bellevue Hospital. Bellevue was the first public hospital ever established in America (1736) and was referred to by Ratso in the film “Midnight Cowboy” – “You ain't sendin' me to Bellevue”.
This line was also parodied in a Seinfeld episode for anyone really interested.
The staff had Bellevue managed to delay delivery for three days but decided to take matters into their own hands at 24 weeks and 1 day. James and Tommy came into the world on 22 August 2009 weighing about 700grams each. I am still a little confused as to which was twin A and which was twin B, and who weighed what.
It didn’t really seem that important – what was important was that the boys were alive and in good hands.
So began the long haul in the NICU – going to daily rounds, watching monitors, peering through the curtains on the giraffe, pacing, learning new terms and a new language. Jen got so good at monitoring the boys that her opinion carried a lot of weight with the doctors. She had no medical training but she did have a mothers eyes. She would notice the smallest change and the doctors would always react to if she felt something was not quite right – more test, reviews x-rays etc. On more than one occasion this ended up them catching something earlier than they would normally have caught it.
We survived reasonably well for 18 days. On about day 16 Thomas started to get sick with multiple infections and was required to throw everything he had to fight them off. Sadly, he was just a little bit too small and after a massive fight, he just didn’t have anything left to give and passed away on 9 September 2009 having lived his whole life in New York.
During his illness, a test was ordered on his heart. I remember watching every second of that test and at the end of it, I asked the technician how it went.
The reply was that Tommy had a good heart – whatever other problems he had, he had a good heart. This came as no real surprise as it is the heart where we feel love and from where we send our love out to the world. Tommy had both in spades.
Tommy’s New York family gave him a great send off a couple of days later with a big party in which Tommy was front and centre.
Only a parent who has lost a child can understand the pain but we got a lot of comfort from feeling that Tommy became a guardian angel for James and was at his shoulder for the rest of the journey. I like to think that Tommy is still at James’ shoulder to this day.
James continued to go from strength to strength and despite the normal setbacks made steady progress until he was ready to go home on 11 Dec 2009. This meant having a full medical evacuation on a commercial QANTAS 747 where James and his equipment occupied 13 seats at the back of the plane. Interestingly, James and Tommy’s original due date was 12 Dec and by crossing the international date line, James actually missed that date in his life. It somehow seemed fitting.
The support that we received from everybody was phenomenal. From my employer, the hospital staff, the insurance company, the Australian consulate, immigration lawyers, QANTAS and of course family and friends. It allowed Jen and I to focus on looking after each other and James and everything else just faded into the back ground.
James is now a happy and “normal” 5 year old boy who loves Minecraft, chocolate chip cookies from Subway and building robots out of lego. He is not so much in love with soccer and fights too much with his little brother but this is what makes him “normal”. We love him a lot. Winston Churchill said after the battle of El Alamein - “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. That is exactly how I felt after leaving the NICU - the beginning was now over and we now had to get on with the business of raising James, comfortable in the knowledge that his little friend Tommy was by his side everystep of the way.