Premature Twins Thrive with a "Rescuing Hug"
By Liz Townsend
Premature babies have a better chance of survival now, due to advances in medical technology and knowledge. But sometimes the best medicine lies not in expensive machines but in the simple touch of another person.
The story of twins Brielle and Kyrie Jackson of Westminster, Massachusetts, made national headlines five years ago and began a revolution in the way multiple-birth babies are treated in their first weeks of life.
Not yet a month old, Brielle was losing her fight for life. Born along with her twin, Kyrie, on October 17, 1995, she weighed only two pounds at birth. While Kyrie, three ounces heavier but much stronger, thrived, Brielle's breathing and heart rate were poor and nothing the doctors at The Medical Center of Central Massachusetts-Memorial tried seemed to make any difference.
On November 12, Brielle's condition worsened dramatically. "She was turning colors," the twins' mother, Heidi Jackson, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "She was getting really worked up. Her heart rate was way up. She was getting hiccups. You could tell she was just completely stressed out."
Nurse Gayle Kasparian, desperately seeking something to help Brielle, remembered hearing about a technique rarely used in America called "double bedding" or "co-bedding." Twins and other multiple-birth babies are put in the same crib, where, like in their mother's womb, they lie close together.
Kasparian put Brielle in the incubator with Kyrie, whom she hadn't seen since birth. To the amazement of everyone, Brielle showed improvement from the first moment she touched her sister.
"[Kasparian] closed the door and Brielle snuggled up to Kyrie and she was just fine," said Jackson, the Telegram & Gazette reported. "She calmed right down. It was immediate. It was absolutely immediate."
Brielle and Kyrie went home with their family just before Christmas, when they were only two months old. When they left the hospital, they each weighed well over five pounds and were considered healthy. "They're doing fantastic," Heidi Jackson told the Telegram & Gazette.
The nation learned about Brielle and Kyrie when a beautiful photograph of Kyrie's arm protectively around her sister, known as the "Rescuing Hug" picture, was published in Reader's Digest and Life magazine in 1996. People were deeply touched by the expression of love between the two tiny sisters and inspired by the healing that can happen with just the warmth of another person.
The conventional thinking of doctors at that time was that tiny preemies should be kept apart so infections couldn't spread. But experts now believe that the threat of infection is minimal, and the benefits of the comfort and security gained by the presence of the baby's twin far outweigh any risks.
"When you consider what these babies have already experienced - - being thrust too early out of the soothing environment of the womb and into the noise, glare and physical discomfort of life in the hospital - - you wonder what added stress is caused by being separated for the first time
from the comfort of the other baby," wrote Patricia Maxwell Malmstrom and Janet Poland in The Art of Parenting Twins. "There is considerable evidence that multiple infants who are co-bedded handle the stress of being hospitalized, and of all the procedures they must endure, better than those who are separated."
Successes in cases such as Brielle and Kyrie's have led to many more hospitals adopting the practice of co-bedding.
Children's Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, first began co-bedding in 1998 when the parents of twins Meagan and Jacob Breid asked that they be placed together. Medical staff at the hospital agreed after reading studies from other hospitals in this country and around the world.
"Research indicates that co-bedded infants tend to have better feeding patterns and thus develop at a faster rate," according to the University of Missouri Health Care web site. "And, because they help regulate each others' breathing, these infants also present improvements in respiratory control and heart rate."
The Breid twins showed immediate improvement, according to the web site. Children's Hospital continues to practice co-bedding.
Marquette General Hospital in Wisconsin also allows parents to choose co-bedding for multiple-birth babies. "Besides being more comfortable, they usually gain weight quicker and maintain body temperature better," said Cindy Ampe, maternal/child nurse manager, according to the hospital's web site.
"We have had nothing but positive feedback from parents who have used co-bedding for their twins."