In 2013, Dianna Webb, now 37, resided with her husband, John, in Denver, Colorado.
The Webbs wanted very much to start a family, but it just wasn’t happening for them.
“We had several tests completed but the physicians were unable to determine the cause and diagnosed us with unexplained infertility,” Webb said. “During our first round of in vitro fertilization, we had no embryos survive. We were devastated.”
Four years later, after a second round of in vitro fertilization, a miracle happened.
Webb became pregnant. Layla arrived full-term, at a healthy 8 pounds.
A year later, when the Webbs tried again, she had another miscarriage.
“And then I had a job offer in 2019 from Spectrum Health in Michigan,” Webb said. “We are originally from Michigan, it was a great position, so we decided it was time to go home.”
Webb accepted the position of director of operations of digestive health in Grand Rapids.
“When John said, ‘Let’s try again,’ I was willing,” she said. “In September 2020, I had two embryos implanted.”
They hoped at least one embryo would take.
The exciting news: Both did.
They would have fraternal twins.
Every day counts
“My due date was June 12, 2021,” Webb said. “But at about 5 a.m. on Feb. 6, I woke up when my water broke.”
At only 22 weeks into her pregnancy, doctors told Webb her babies were very early in her pregnancy.
Doctors admitted her to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital for leakage of amniotic fluid and to evaluate Webb’s health as well as that of her babies.
“The amniotic sac of Twin A had ruptured, but there were no signs of preterm labor and the babies were doing well,” said Vivian Romero, MD, in maternal-fetal medicine. “Every day they stay inside the pregnant uterus (if safe for mom and babies), the greater the chances of surviving and with better outcomes.”
At 22 weeks, Dr. Romero said, only about 30% of babies survive. There are risks of being born this early, including difficulty regulating the babies’ temperature, lung and brain development, and problems with bowel function.
“At 24 weeks, the survival rate nationwide is about 50%, but at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children Hospital, we see about an 80% survival rate,” Dr. Romero said. “We bring a lot of experience. We have a small baby unit in our neonatal intensive care that specializes in the care of the extremely premature babies.”
Working together with Mitchell DeJonge, MD, a neonatologist, doctors did everything possible to keep Webb from going into labor.
They gave her antibiotics to prevent infection of the ruptured membrane, along with other medications to maintain her stable condition.
“The parents had to make a very difficult decision,” Dr. DeJonge said. “They decided that the babies would be DNR—designated as do not resuscitate—if born before 24 weeks.”
“There were too many risks,” Webb said. “CPR on such a tiny baby would have crushed all his bones. We couldn’t do that. I was scared out of my mind.”
Scared and counting the days.
Every day meant better survival chances for the babies.
One evening, at 23 weeks and six days, Webb went into labor.
She underwent an emergency cesarean section.
The smallest patients
The babies were born on Feb. 20, 2021.
“I had reached 24 weeks by just a few hours,” Webb said. “Knox, whose amniotic sac had ruptured, was born first at 1 pound, 9 ounces. Ellis was 1 pound, 14 ounces.”
The tiny twins were whisked away to the Small Baby Unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, one of the few neonatal centers in the country with a designated area for micro-preemies born at 27 weeks or less, weighing less than 2 pounds.
It would be the first day of 111 days the babies would spend in the Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as a small baby unit,” Webb said. “Knox and Ellis were put on vents and feeding tubes. John and I were allowed to hold them skin-to-skin for the first time at seven days. We rotated them between the two of us.”
Doctors watched both babies closely.
As the days went by, the Webbs began to breathe easier.
The boys grew ounce by ounce.
To give the boys the best nutrition and higher calories possible, Webb pumped breast milk to then be fed to the babies.
“There were good days and bad days, an emotional roller coaster,” Webb said. “But by June 9, Knox was healthy enough to come home.”
Doctors kept Ellis in the NICU for a few extra days. By June 11, however, he journeyed home to join his brother.
“Knox was 7 pounds, 8 ounces, but Ellis was 8 pounds, 8 ounces, when he came home,” Webb said.
One by one, the babies would continue to see all kinds of specialists, each one checking for any health issues that might come up for preemies.
Heart, lungs, vision, hearing. All the specialists gave the Webbs a thumbs up.
“Knox still needs some oxygen and it will take a while for them to catch up to other babies in development,” Webb said. “We were told that by about age 2, they will have caught up to others their age.”
By 7 months of age, the thriving boys had reached 15 and 16 pounds.
One recent afternoon, as Webb reached out with a gentle touch to each of her twin boys, her eyes filled with tears.
“It’s ridiculous how much gratitude I feel,” she said quietly. “As little as they were, I don’t know if my babies would have survived anywhere else.”