JOLIET – Shocked and thrilled.
That’s how Erin and Rick Weiss of Joliet felt when learning they were expecting twins. Twins didn’t run in their families, Erin said.
“I made the ultrasound technician check four or five times,” Erin said.
The Weiss family became involved with March of Dimes when the boys, born prematurely, turned a year old. To further raise awareness, the Weiss family is the 2014 ambassador family for the March for Babies Walk in Joliet, which is scheduled for April 27.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Erin said.
Greg Carrell, director for the March of Dimes Northeast Illinois Division, said the March for Babies Walk is the biggest fundraisers for the organization’s local chapter.
Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt began the organization specifically to find a cure for polio, which at that time struck tens of thousands a year, Carrell said. Jonas Salk received a March of Dimes grant and invented the polio vaccine in 1955, Carrell added.
Since then, March of Dimes has focused on reducing premature births and birth defects, as well as promoting healthy pregnancies, Carrell said.
The folic acid campaign encouraging women of childbearing years to take the vitamin to prevent neural tube defects was a March of Dimes project, Carrell said. So was the research leading to life-saving procedures and technology used today and the development of surfactant to help preemies breath, Carrell added.
“These are things that are in our win columns,” Carrell said.
Locally, the Will County Health Department uses March of Dimes educational publications in many of its departments, said Vic Reato, Will County Health Department media services manager.
It also uses the March of Dimes prenatal bilingual curricula, approved through the Illinois Department of Health Services, for its grant-funded Better Birth Outcomes program, Reato said.
“The program provides home visits for high risk moms,” Reato said. “The grant allows for a maximum of 60 clients at any one time and we have 60 clients.”
For the first half of her pregnancy, Erin continued working as a special education early childhood teacher at Bruning Elementary School in Wilmington, where Erin still works.
Then, at 22 weeks, Erin experienced a “funny pain.” The school nurse sent her to the hospital. Doctors gave Erin medications to stop the labor, kept her overnight and then instructed her to stay home on bed rest.
A week later, Erin’s water broke and Erin’s doctor sent her to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where Erin would stay for the next six weeks.
“We were scared. ... I knew there wasn’t a real high survival rate that early,” Erin said. “We were hoping and praying and trying to keep happy thoughts.”
The earlier in pregnancy a baby is born, the odds for health problems increase, according to the March of Dimes’ website. Problems include respiratory distress syndrome, brain bleeds, heart failure, vision loss, infections and problems with the kidneys and the liver.
Erin remained in bed except for showers, bathroom visits and occasional permission to sit in a chair, she said. She prepared and sent classroom lesson plans, shopped online and slept.
On March 26, Erin developed “belly tenderness,” which doctors thought might indicate an infection. Labor was induced that same day, without anesthesia, as it could spread the infection, Erin said.
Erin labored that night in an operation room, in case she required general anesthesia. A team of 20 medical professionals consisting of doctors, nurses, pediatricians and anesthesiologists assisted her, she said.
On March 27, 2009, Erin gave birth to Gavin (2 pounds, 14 ounces) and then, 15 minutes later, to Dylan (2 pounds, 8 ounces).
Gavin breathed on his own but was placed on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to deliver additional oxygen. Dylan had to be intubated. Both babies went to the highest critical care level of the neonatal intensive care unit at Rush.
A heartbroken Erin was released from the hospital seven weeks before her babies were. Each day, Erin drove from Joliet to Chicago to be with her tiny sons.
“I would call in the middle of the night to see how they were doing,” Erin said, “and first thing in the morning to see how their night was.”
In the NICU, Erin did plenty of “kangaroo care,” or holding the babies, backs covered, on her bare chest. The March of Dimes website listed several benefits of kangaroo care for premature babies.
It maintains body warmth, regulates heart and breathing rates, promotes deeper sleep, reduces crying time and improves a mother’s breast milk production. Weiss used the method to care for one baby in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
“They just kept getting stronger and stronger and graduating up through the nurseries,” Erin said.
The twins required blood transfusions for jaundice; Dylan underwent surgery for a hernia. Erin’s Mother’s Day present was the removal of all her sons’ tubes. Gavin and Dylan came home May 13.
“It was so overwhelming,” Erin said, “but we were so excited to finally have them home.”
Today, Gavin and Dylan today are normal 5-year-old, in preschool, Erin said. Gavin is artistic and reserved; Dylan often acts silly. They are also good big brothers to their 11-month-old sister Peyton, Erin added.
“They still have had no issues or developmental delays,” Erin said. “They are truly a miracle. I just know how lucky we are.”
If you go
What: March of Dimes annual 5K walk fundraiser
When: April 27. Registration is at 8 a.m. Walk begins after registration at 9 a.m.
Where: Joliet West High School, 401 N. Larkin Ave., Joliet. The walk loops northwest of the school then returns to the field house.
At event: Bounce house, face painting, balloon artists and food, including desserts by Joliet Junior College’s culinary department
For information: Call the Northeast Illinois March of Dimes at 815-600-8086.