It was the longest few seconds of Jaime and Sean Winkler’s lives. Their 12-month-old daughter, Bella, lay lifeless on the operating room table after she flatlined unexpectedly during surgery to repair her shunt line. The line had moved and fluid was draining from her brain to her lungs. Just when it appeared as though all had been lost, the strength of Regina’s pediatric services helped provide them with renewed hope.
“It is an experience that will stay with us forever. I will always remember the compassion of our health care professionals and how they weren’t willing to give up on her,” says Jaime. “We had one team who rallied together to revive her while another group stood by our side, providing much needed emotional support. Their combined efforts gave Bella and our family a second chance.”
Bella and her twin sister, Mila, have long defied the odds.
At 25 weeks, Jamie and Sean learned their daughters had Stage 4 twin to twin transfusion syndrome. The condition causes one twin to be underdeveloped and the other overdeveloped. On Aug. 15, 2015, Jaime underwent an emergency SVT laser ablation on her placenta in Toronto to help give her girls a fighting chance. Three days later in Regina, Bella and Mila were born weighing 650 grams and 820 grams respectively.
“It was heartbreaking to welcome two precious little girls into our lives only to begin thinking about planning their funeral,” she says. “The prognosis for the both of them wasn’t good. We were told the chance of them surviving was less than two per cent.”
Mila was immediately whisked away for further medical attention while Bella stayed behind to enjoy, what many thought, were her final moments with her mom and family.
“Even then, I could tell she had made up her mind that this wasn’t it for her, she was going to fight,” says Jaime. “She gave a heavy sigh, bubbles flew out of her mouth, and she just started screaming. Right there, that was her way of saying, ‘I’m staying’.”
While it was a challenging time for Jaime and Sean, nothing meant more to them than the amazing care their girls received. Every year, Hospitals of Regina Foundation invests in pediatric services to ensure quality care is available for the more than 500 babies, like Bella and Mila, needing the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“For a period of three to four months, it was literally one baby after the other. One would be responding well to treatment, and then the other would crash. The next day, the roles were reversed,” she says.
I really don’t know how we would have gotten through such a trying time without the support of everyone who works in pediatric services. They were there for every second of our journey, providing top-quality care when our girls needed it most.Mila would spend 115 days in NICU. During that time, she overcame multiple surgeries to her small intestine, allowing her body to gain the nutrients she needed to grow and develop. She was also diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy, a condition that impairs muscle coordination, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. Mila has trouble stretching and moving one side of her body, as well as standing up properly.
Bella would leave the NICU two weeks after Mila. The little girl who few thought would survive, recovered from several head surgeries and fluid buildup around her brain. She also no longer required oxygen support as her lungs grew stronger.
Today, thanks to the care provided by our outpatient pediatric program, the twins are thriving. They continue to meet with a pediatrician to monitor their development and to receive regular checkups, including eye, hearing and cardiac tests. Mila also participates in the physical and occupational therapy program at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre.
“Our journey has not been easy and we still have a long road ahead of us,” she says. “The silver lining in all this is that Bella and Mila are still with us. No one ever gave up on them. They are amazing little girls that light up our lives. Whether you are a doctor, nurse or donor, your support has given them the chance to be amazing. There are no words for what that means to us.”