NEW CASTLE —
Cassandra is a cuddler who loves to be held.
Irelynn is the inquisitive one.
The identical twins — the children of Thomas and Kelly Finley of Union Township — act like any 2-year-olds.
They are a double joy this Christmas season and every day of the year.
Looking at the full-of-life toddlers who Kelly refers to with a smile as “double trouble,” it’s hard to believe that they are considered miracle babies.
That’s because there were times during her pregnancy when it was believed neither child would be born.
The two were diagnosed in utero with Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, a rare condition in which they shared a common vessel in the placenta, with one sister taking nutrients and fluid from the other.
Dr. Stephen Emery at Magee-Womens Hospital performed a laser ablation that saved both babies.
On Dec. 1, 2010, Cassandra and Irelynn entered the world five weeks early by Cesarean section.
Despite prematurity, they avoided a potential five-week hospital stay and were strong enough to go home with their mother.
Now two years later, the Finleys look forward to another joyous Christmas.
It’s actually four times the blessings for these parents because they also have a daughter, Sherridan, nearly 5, and Thomas, nearly 3.
The couple struggled with infertility issues and Kelly lost a baby in utero.
“We were told to be cautious and expect developmental delays with the twins,” Kelly said. “But at every check-up, the doctors are more and more amazed.”
That word comes up in conversation often when she talks about the twins.
“The amazement hasn’t worn off,” Kelly explained. “They are doing everything their brother and sister did, and sometimes, even at a faster pace because they learned from their older siblings.”
At 12 months, Irelynn began walking, and Cassandra followed at 13 months.
Kelly described that development as perfect, and she and Tom enjoy watching each milestone.
Those siblings have each “adopted” a little sister to nurture and mentor.
Sherridan refers to Cassandra as her little peanut and is like her second mother, and “Thomas is all about Irelynn,” Kelly said.
“One specialist couldn’t get over that they were Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome babies because most of the time, at least one of the babies has an issue, and requires occupational or physical therapy, or both.”
Cassandra and Irelynn required neither.
There’s more double delight.
Olivia Lockhart is not only the girls’ aunt but also an early intervention specialist who knows that sometimes the consequences of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome turn out differently.
“These babies were truly a miracle,” Lockhart observed.
Admittedly, she was at first shocked and heartbroken when she heard about her sister-in-law’s situation, Lockhart said, adding that because of her background and occupation, she’s very familiar with the developmental delays that can occur due to the medical condition.
Somehow, though, she said that she sensed the twins would be just fine.
Her hunch was correct.
KEEPING A PROMISE
The twins also have a bond “like no other,” Kelly affirmed.
“They have to be near each other at night and at naptime. And if one cries, the other tries to find out what is wrong.”
Lockhart still has difficulties telling them apart but confirmed that the girls’ personalities are like comparing night to day.
Their story was included in the show, “Life Changing Medicine” on the Discovery Channel, which aired when Cassandra and Irelynn were nine-months old.
Even with their fortunate circumstances, still Kelly knows other parents and their babies aren’t so lucky. So she made a vow to help.
“I promised God when I was 17 weeks pregnant that if they survived, I would tell my story and do something to raise awareness.”
She often visits the Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Foundation page on the Internet and a Facebook page dedicated to the issue, which also includes prayer requests.
Often, the stories are sad. A woman of strong faith, she wants now most of all to help with survivors.
Lockhart said, “If I become aware of families who I work with going through TTTS, I know Kelly would be a wonderful resource for them to use. They need to know there is an option in surgery and there is someone to talk to who has been through it.”
Kelly knows that 20 percent of identical twins who share a placenta will acquire Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Early intervention is key, she said, adding that one or both babies will die if nothing is done.
“I love these little girls,” Lockhart noted. “To look at them now, you would never know they went through this.”
Dec. 7 was Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Awareness Day.
Next year, Kelly wants to organize a local fundraiser such as a walk.
“I want there to be funds available for families and for research. There are only so many doctors in the U.S. who deal with this and families need means to travel.”
For the Finleys, it’s one way of giving back.
“We were given so much,” Kelly said. “I had four babies. So many people have none or lost theirs. We know what could have been and are thankful for every day we have with all four children.”
And at Christmastime, the Finley family truly feels that the gift of life is the most precious gift of all.
Double Delight: Twins diagnosed in utero with rare, life-threatening condition celebrate second birthday with no health issues
NEW CASTLE —
Cassandra is a cuddler who loves to be held.
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