By Harriet Whitehead
Miracle twins who were born before the abortion limit and could fit in the palm of a hand are now thriving as they approach their first birthday.
Adorable Felix and Rhonin Maslanka weighed just over one pound each when they were born on March 10, 2018, at just 23 weeks and four days.
The identical twins, whose birth date was meant to be July 5, are believed to be the youngest set of twins to be born in the UK at that gestation and survive.
Given a slim chance of making it, Felix, now weighing 14lb 11oz and Rhonin, 15lb 2oz, are now doing well as they celebrate their milestone first birthday – having spent their first 150 days in hospital.
Proud parents receptionist Amy Maslanka, 29, and police officer Liam Sneath, 28, feared they were going to lose Felix after he stopped breathing at two weeks old but the little fighter pulled through.
Amy, from Southend, Essex, said: “We feel very lucky. We have two little miracles.
“When they were first born we didn’t know what would happen. We didn’t want to look too far ahead.
“We didn’t expect to find ourselves in that situation and now we feel so happy that we’re celebrating their first birthdays – when you think about what they’ve been through.
“We can’t say for sure but at the moment it doesn’t look like they have any issues.
“Their corrected age is seven months because of how early they were born so they won’t be doing everything that babies at a year old do. They still have a tube to help them breath.
“They love being in the baby bouncer, they love watching Cbeebies and they’re more reactive. When you call their names they will look at you.
“We’re weaning them at the moment giving them three meals a day and they’re doing really well.
“They have their own little personalities. Rhonin is the placid one, he does everything Felix does but keeps more to himself. Felix is the cheeky one and he can’t sit still.”
Amy said she had a good pregnancy but took herself to Southend Hospital after experiencing cramps.
They found she had a water infection that had affected Felix and she was transferred to Luton Hospital which had the equipment to deal with the birth and aftercare.
Just a day later the boys were born naturally – Felix first weighing 525g (1lb 2oz) and Rhonin an hour later weighing 580g (1lb 4oz).
Amy said: “They were saying to us ‘this is not going to end well’ and I needed to consider that I could walk away with two babies, one baby or no babies.
“I had to try and keep them in as long as possible and try not to push but Felix wouldn’t wait.
“They took Felix away straight away. I didn’t even get to see him before he was put in his special lamplit bed.
“I got a glimpse of Rhonin but they had to whisk him off too. They both had ‘water skin’ so I couldn’t touch them.
“We were so excited but also so worried about being excited because we didn’t know what was going to happen to them. They told us to make memories with them in case the worst happened.
“Thankfully I got to see them about an hour after they were born in the NICU. They said we could put our finger in to touch them but it took me a day to be able to do that and my partner a couple of days. It was very hard.
“Ronan weighed 580g and Felix was 525g – less than a bag of sugar. They were the length from the middle finger to the wrist, smaller than my partner’s hand.
“We were able to hold Felix after 50 days and Rhonin after 52.”
The boys were born with their eyes fused shut and both had an open valve in their hearts. Felix’s was fixed with medication but Rhonin had to have surgery so they could put a stint in.
They had to have a special machine to breath for them and to be fed through a tube via their umbilical cord and then throat.
Felix also had water on his lung that had to be drained and suffered from constipation.
Both also had to have an operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London after suffering from huge hernias.
Amy said: “There was one occasion when Felix took a turn for the worst and the hospital staff called us in. He’d stopped breathing.
“They hooked him up to a machine and told us if that didn’t work there was nothing more they could do.
“His oxygen levels had dropped so low they told us we’d have to consider that he could be brain damaged.
“We had to consider as a family whether to let him go. We thought it might be the best thing but then Felix started pulling his little foot with his hand like a normal baby. We decided we’d let Felix make the decision himself. If he chose to fight we’d let him fight and if he chose to let go we’d let him go.”
With all the complications they spent time in four different hospitals before being allowed home after almost five months.
Now they still have tubes to give them oxygen but are no longer on medication and are hitting the milestones expected for their corrected age.
Amy said: “We think they’re the joint youngest twins to survive at that gestation. We’ve authorized their medical records to be used so that they can help other babies.
“We saw a lot of people come and go in the hospital – some of their babies didn’t make it so we feel fortunate to be here and to be able to celebrate their birthday with our family.”
A spokeswoman for the Twins and Multiple Birth’s Association Tamba said they understand ‘these twins are among the youngest ever surviving recorded in Britain with just two other sets recorded from 2017’.
Keith Reed, CEO of Tamba, said: “We rarely hear of twins surviving at 23 weeks we are delighted to hear that they are doing well and about to celebrate their first birthday.
“It is a testament to the wonderful NHS medical staff in the maternity unit and neonatal ward.”
Professor Andy Shennan, obstetrician specialising in preterm births and adviser to charity Tommy’s, said the survival rate for twins born this early is around 30 per cent.
He said: “The survival rate for twins born between 23 and 24 weeks is comparable to that of singleton babies. About one in three surviving would not be uncommon.”