'We didn't know if we would get to be parents' says new mum
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Oliver and Harry may be just six months old but they have faced more battles in their short life than most - and now their parents are preparing for an extra special Christmas with their miracle babies.
Roxanne Cutajar, 27, from Ipswich, discovered at the start of the year that she was expecting twins, as the Covid pandemic began to take a grip on the world.
"It has been a very long year," said clinical lead nurse.
"We found out we were having twins at the 12-week scan and at 16 weeks we were seen by a consultant who said there was a difference in size between the two."
Her unborn babies had a condition known as twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS).
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The disease affects identical twins who share a placenta. The shared placenta contains abnormal blood vessels, which connect the umbilical cords and circulations of the twins.
The common placenta may also be shared unequally by the twins, and one twin may have a share too small to provide the necessary nutrients to grow normally or even survive.
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The condition meant one twin was smaller than his brother.
"They wanted to do laser surgery," said Roxanne. "But their cords were way too close.
"At that point we were transferred to Kings College in London to a research unit and we were seen there nearly every week."
Through all of this Roxanne and partner Chris Gadeke, also 27, leant on one another but their families could only offer support from afar because of Covid restrictions, which she said added to the pressure.
Roxanne, who was working at a care home at the time, was put on furlough because of the risk of Covid.
"I was high risk," she explained.
And there was further bad news to come for Roxanne and Chris.
"We found out apart from TTTS they had another condition, selective fetal growth restriction. There was a danger of a stroke in the womb, or brain injury."
The condition, combined with TTTS was serious and an amnio drainage was carried out at 24 weeks to protect Roxanne from spontaneous labour.
"We were offered the option of aborting the whole pregnancy, terminate one or carry on," said Roxanne.
"No-one wants to make that decision. Both boys were growing and we just looked at one another and we knew we had to give them the chance to continue to fight. And I am glad we did."
She added: "It was a risky pregnancy not knowing if we would get to be parents."
The fight continued and at 29 weeks doctors diagnosed a pulmonary stenosis on the bigger twin's heart.
"They transferred us to Guys and St Thomas and we had scans at 30 and 31 weeks in preparation for Ollie's heart surgery," said the new mum.
The twins were due be delivered via planned C-section at 32 weeks but at the 31 week scan it appeared Harry, the smaller baby, had stopped growing so an emergency caesarean was performed and they arrived into the world on June 25, with Oliver weighing 4lbs 4oz and Harry just 2lbs 7oz.
"We were transferred to St Thomas' for Oliver's heart surgery," said Roxanne.
The babies spent eight weeks in the newborn intensive care unit before they were allowed home to Ipswich and during this time it was discovered that Oliver also had a brain injury.
"It could cause mild to severe cerebral palsy. He has had several MRI scans now but we won't know how bad it will be until he is two years old.
"Harry had a hernia and has had an operation in Norwich for that and he also has a liver issue but he has not got as many problems as Ollie," revealed Roxanne.
The parents have vowed to do everything they can for their precious twins and Roxanne added: "These will be our first and only children, we are not going through all of that again."
She added: "Obviously it is stressful, Ollie could have a difficult life but we he will still have a good life, we will just have to adapt.
"We will still travel and give him the world in his own way.
"Both boys have already made it so far."
Roxanne wanted to share her experience to make others more aware of the dangers of carrying multiples.
She said: "Chris' dad is a twin so we had joked about it but we couldn't believe it when they said it was actually twins.
"Then the doctor told us about everything that could wrong. I had no idea how risky it was to have twins until that point. It is a very different experience to just having one baby."