By Harriet Whitehead
These adorable miracle twins given a 10 per cent chance of survival have celebrated their first birthday – thanks to pioneering laser surgery carried out while they were still in the WOMB.
Mum Sherrie Foulger, 32, and her groundworker fiancé Craig Armstrong, 30, were devastated when they were told their babies had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) – a rare condition which causes one twin to receive more blood than the other – and were unlikely to survive the pregnancy.
But against the odds, Roma and Reeve Armstrong have just marked the milestone first birthday after surgeons carried out risky laser ablation surgery on them at 21 weeks’ gestation.
Although fearing the pioneering op could leave one or both boys brain damaged, the adorable pair have suffered no long-lasting health complications after being born naturally at 29 weeks on April 3, 2018.
Cargo worker Sherrie, from Ilkeston, Derbyshire, said: “We never thought we’d get to the point we’re at now.
“We’d go for weekly scans and I’d be so anxious not knowing if they would be alive or dead.
“Now the boys are thriving. They’re crawling around and holding themselves up and eating well.
“We were told that having this surgery in the womb at 21 weeks there was a 60 per cent chance of one of them surviving but if we didn’t have it they’d both die.
“I broke down – I thought I’d lose one, if not both of them.
“Even if they did survive there was a possibility they would have been starved of oxygen and end up brain damaged.”
Mum-of-four Sherrie, who has two children Theo Francis, 12, and Troy Francis, eight, from a previous relationship, was told at her 16 week scan her sons had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome – something she and Craig never heard of before.
The condition is an abnormality of the placenta where part of the blood flow is diverted from one ‘donor’ twin to the other – affecting its growth and putting the heart of the recipient twin under strain.
TTTS which affects around 10 per cent of identical twin pregnancies, causes the recipient twin to produce a large amount of fluid while there is little surrounding the donor twin.
Sherrie said: “It happens in just 10 per cent of identical twins. It’s incredibly rare.
“It broke my heart when they told me they had it, It absolutely petrified me.
“We read up on it and all you think is ‘I’m going to lose my babies’.”
At 18 weeks pregnant the couple were referred to a top consultant at Birmingham Women’s Hospital and, at 21 weeks, medics discovered the fluid around Roma was 11cm while Reeve’s was below one centimetre.
This meant Roma’s heart was struggling and the only option was pioneering but risky laser ablation surgery.
Sherrie said: “I had local anaesthetic and was awake the whole time with Craig beside me.
“I’d never seen so many doctors. There were about 35 people in the room while it was happening.
“It’s an amazing thing medics do. They drained two litres of fluid.”
A week later Sherrie had a 4D scan and an MRI scan to identify if there was any brain damage to either twin, but thankfully both were fine and arrangements were made for delivery at 32 weeks.
However at 29 weeks and four days Sherrie’s waters broke and the pair were born naturally the same day – Roma first weighing 3lb 2oz and Reeve 27 minutes later weighing 2lb 13oz.
Both babies had an oxygen mask to help them breath, feeding tubes and tubes going to their umbilical cord for medicines and antibiotics.
Sherrie said: “When they were born, they were whisked off and taken to the neo-natal intensive care unit.
“They lifted them up to show us their faces but we weren’t allowed to hold them.
“It was such a mix of emotions. It felt like they came so quickly. We were happy they were alright but scared because we didn’t know what was going to happen.
“They looked so vulnerable with tubes coming out of them, we couldn’t do anything to help them.
“Although Reeve was the smaller twin he’s always been stronger. I could hold Reeve after four days and Roma after five or six days, so then could have double cuddles.
“It felt like the best thing holding them both. I’d sit there for hours not moving. I wouldn’t put them down.”
The twins spent 40 days at three different hospitals before being allowed home in May last year.
The pair are since doing well and have attracted thousands of followers to their Instagram page which Sherrie set up to create memories and help other parents going through the same thing.
Sherrie said: “I burst into tears when I first brought them home. I couldn’t believe it was happening – I was so overwhelmed with emotion.
“First they’d had TTTS, then there was the laser surgery, then them being born prematurely – it felt like everything that could have happened had done so.
“But we’ve been so lucky and blessed. Roma is really laid back and Reeve is the cheeky mischief maker.
“They get on really well and light up when they see each other. It’s amazing the bond they have because of all they’ve been through.”
Follow the twins’ adventures on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/armstrongtwinnies/?hl=en