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Last Updated: Monday, 24 March, 2003, 00:00 GMT
'My babies came 15 weeks early'
Alex
Alex pictured just after birth
A report says that there should be "substantial improvement" in some of the UK's neonatal intensive care units.

Fortunately for mother Nicci Livesey, when her twin girls arrived at 25 weeks, she received excellent care and the twins survived against 50-50 odds.

But as she told BBC News Online, it was still a desperately worrying time for the family.

Nicci Livesey and her husband Stephen thought it was just a scare when she felt the first signs of labour - less than six months into her pregnancy.

"I'd never even heard of premature babies," she said, "at least not babies born more than a few weeks early."

However, despite a week's bed-rest, labour started in earnest seven days later at the Norwich and Norfolk Hospital.

The twins were eventually born by caesarean section, and Nicci was warned that there was a good chance they would not survive.

She said: "I actually heard one of them cry, which was odd, but I hardly saw them before they were put in an incubator and taken away.

"I didn't expect to see them again. It was terrible."

Aimee weighed just 1lb 4oz (567 grammes), and Alex 1lb 9oz (708 grammes).

Early danger

Nicci was warned that the first 48 hours would be crucial - but both the twins made it.

By now Nicci was well enough to sit by their incubators in the special care baby unit, but was not allowed to pick them up.

Aimee
Aimee next to a pen
"I loved them straight away, but I felt I hadn't given birth to them."

The twins suffered many of the problems of premature babies - they were vulnerable to infections and the constant ventilation caused damage to their immature lungs.

Nicci said: "They used to 'die' at least twice a day - they'd go into a deep sleep and stop breathing.

"The alarm would go off, and the nurses would come in and give them a little shake to get them started again.

"Eventually, I learned that I could lean in and flick their feet to do the same thing."

Her husband convinced her to be confident that the twins would make it, but there were still moments of doubt.

Aimee and Alex
Both girls are doing well
"We used to go down to the hospital chapel every night and light a candle for them. It was an awful time."

Eventually the girls started to put on weight, and four months later, Alex was able to come home to the family home in Braintree, Essex.

A month later, and the family was complete.

Two years on, and both are still doing fine - although they are still very small for their age.

Their prematurity has left other reminders. Both Aimee and Alex are still vulnerable to chest infections, and Aimee is blind in one eye.

But Nicci is now getting over the experience of watching their life and death struggle.

She said: "I still get flashbacks every now and again to when they were in their incubators, and that's upsetting.

"But I feel so lucky to have them, and they are wonderful girls."




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