April Helton cradles her twins in utero at her apartment in late July. Helton's twins died of complications on Aug. 9. (Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)
Almost four months into her pregnancy, April Helton learned that the twin boys she was carrying were suffering from a rare condition that threatened both of their lives.
Over the next several weeks, she would travel hundreds of miles and undergo a multitude of medical procedures and examinations for the sake of her unborn children. Despite all of her and her doctors’ precautions and treatments, however, Helton’s pregnancy would not reach its desired conclusion.
On Saturday at Johnson City Medical Center, Helton delivered her twin boys — Samuel Knox and Owen Nathaniel — more than three months before her original due date of Nov. 27.
Within the hour, both boys had died.
Samara Litvack, a friend of Helton’s who had been helping her during the pregnancy, spoke to Press staff on Helton’s behalf Monday evening.
“Given the circumstances, she’s as good as can be expected,” Litvack said. “She is feeling many different emotions and, ultimately, grieving.”
In mid-June, around three months into her pregnancy, Helton was diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion, a rare condition in which one twin begins absorbing the blood that should be flowing to the other.
On June 18, the same day she found out about the TTTS, she drove through the night for more than 300 miles for a corrective surgery at the Fetal Care Center in Cincinnati.
After she returned to Johnson City on June 25, Helton’s doctors advised her to stay home on bed rest. Throughout that time, she made weekly visits to her doctor’s office to monitor the twins and tried to do as little as possible while she was at home. Her only complication occurred on July 11, when she checked into JCMC after her water had prematurely broken. During that visit, she was told that she would report back to the hospital on Aug. 4 to remain there through her pregnancy.
Two days before that date, however, she checked herself into JCMC after she began to feel what Litvack described — in an online blog — as a “severe” pain in her abdomen. While the pain would subside after around four days, it returned on the fifth day and did not relent.
“From Tylenol, they (doctors) tried stronger pain meds to keep her comfortable, but nothing ever worked,” Litvack wrote. “It soon became obvious that her pain was, in fact, a days-long stream of steady contractions.”
Litvack wrote that, upon seeing Helton on Friday, Aug. 8, the pain had curbed her appetite and was so great that she couldn’t get up to use the bathroom. Later that day, doctors realized that Helton was beginning to go into labor.
“Within hours, the first baby was born,” she wrote. “Within three additional minutes, the second (was born). The twins were then whisked away by (neonatal intensive care nurses).
“The larger baby still had lots of extra fluid and the smaller one was extremely small. Their little lungs hadn’t fully developed. Their little bodies just weren’t able to live on their own.”
Though Litvack said Helton was unsure of how long her babies lived, she estimated it was “approximately 30 minutes.”
While the TTTS played a part in the twins’ deaths, Litvack said, doctors told Helton that multiple factors may have contributed.
“From the very beginning, the doctors told her that twin pregnancies are high-risk,” Litvack said. “Definitely, the TTTS contributed to that. There were just many complications that added up.”
Helton was discharged from JCMC on Saturday and returned home to privately cope with her loss. The twins’ funeral will also be a private affair.
While some things will be done privately, Litvack said Helton wanted to publicly thank everyone who supported her through the pregnancy and continues to support her.
“She’s also humbled by the continued support of her friends, family and the community,” Litvack said. “She’s very appreciative.”
Helton’s situation gained attention across the Internet after Litvack created a fundraiser for her online at youcaring.com on July 8. At the time, Litvack created the site to assist Helton with her cost-of-living expenses, as well as costs associated with raising two babies. Although its original purpose has changed, Litvack said the website will remain open.
“I’m not going to close the fund,” she said. “She’ll end up being off of work for a while as she physically and emotionally heals. She still has her costs-of-living. At this point, she’s unclear if any more (hospital bills) are going to come in.
“As new details become available, we can share them on that page. We can post updates regarding other expenses or costs that may be unforeseen at this time.”
Anyone interested in contributing to Helton can do so at Litvack’s YouCaring website, youcaring.com//medical-fundraiser/rare-twins-w-rare-condition-first-time-mother/200570.
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