Bedford’s Finnerty family credits March of Dimes research for saving twin preemies
Steve and Amy Finnerty, of Bedford, hugged each other once again as they looked upon their twins, born 15 weeks before they were due. Caitlyn, born first, and her brother, Keegan, were so tiny, they were classified as micro preemies.
It was almost four years ago since the babies were born but the parents’ memories remain vivid. The delivery room at Manchester’s Elliot Hospital, founded in 1890, was filled with specialists. The silence was intense as the team went about saving the children, whose lungs were not ready for the smallest breaths.
Keegan was 12 inches long. Caitlyn was shorter than a standard ruler. The children were weighed in grams instead of pounds and ounces, so as to enable the detection of even minuscule weight fluctuations.
The couple, along with their son, Camden, then 17 months old, and family and friends hoped for miracles.
Caitlyn, weighing 790 grams – about 1 pound, 12 ounces – was not breathing. She was given artificial surfactant, a coating agent developed through research by the March of Dimes, founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the late president and a polio victim.
The surfactant enables the cells in the lungs to expand and take in air. Chest compressions and oxygen administrations helped Caitlyn into the world.
Soon, the baby was intubated and attached to a ventilator. She was breathing. She was critically ill. She did not cry because of her underdeveloped lungs.
Keegan was born two minutes later and weighed 800 grams – barely more than Caitlyn. He also required the artificial surfactant. He needed chest compressions to keep him alive. Intubated and hooked to a ventilator, the baby also was also in critical condition.
Keegan was delicate and his father Steve later slipped his wedding band onto the baby’s arm. It dangled at Keegan’s elbow. A plush toy nestled alongside the tiny boy, seemed almost as big as the baby.
Amy said the medical teams she and Steve worked with were expert instructors who taught with compassion.
“The babies were both on the ventilator, so there were times when they would stop breathing,” Amy said. “The team taught us how to help bring our babies back to breathing. It was unbelievable – the number of tubes and wires the babies had in them.”
Today, the twins, almost age 4, are thriving. Each attends preschool, along with their elder brother Camden, age 5. Last week, the trio arrived home from school with snacks in mind. Camden showed off a painting rendered in pale yellow and sky blue. Keegan and Caitlyn held up wooden blocks they painted during the morning’s art lesson.
Steve, a civil engineer for the FAA who oversees construction projects at airports, and Amy, formerly a teacher before the children’s arrival, concur that each day is a challenge filled with surprises as their twins learn new words and new skills.
They watched their kids dispatch some crackers and play with a cooking set that includes plastic bacon and slices of fake pie, along with some plastic veggies. Camden, the proud, big brother, was especially generous in filling a bowl and offering some make-believe lunch to his siblings.
Amy and Steve, married eight years, said that when the twins were born at Elliot Hospital, it took 117 days of visits to the hospital before the children’s release was considered.
The parents spent every day of nearly four months with the hospitalized twins. Amy and Steve were there feeding, bathing, changing diapers, taking temperatures, learning about medications and nutrition – all the things parents of micro preemies need to know. Subsequently, Caitlyn underwent a surgery in Boston at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.
Steve said there was no time to question why such things happen.
“We had no choice,” Steve said. “We knew we had to get them through it. At first, we didn’t even know if they would survive. Later, when they came home, it wasn’t as if everything was over. Caitlyn came home on oxygen and a monitor. Our morning and evening feedings included half-hour nebulizer treatments for each one.”
Steve’s co-workers participated in a program that enabled them to donate their vacation hours to Steve, so he could be free to tend the babies while they were in the hospital. Tests and more tests showed the children were progressing.
The twins were so inundated with wires, tubes, monitors and other apparatus that the first time Amy held Keegan was when he was five days old. Keegan came home after 101 days in the hospital. Caitlyn stayed in the hospital for two more weeks. It took about three years for the number of therapists, doctors, nurses and other intervention personnel involved to dwindle. Today, routine exams suffice.
Steve and Amy became more familiar with the work of the March of Dimes while at the hospital. They discovered that the organization is focused on healthy babies. They volunteered to participate in the organization’s March for Babies, which raises funds for research.
Amy said the twins were almost a year old when the family did their first walk.
“We did the first walk and we really liked it,” Amy said. “We signed up every year for the walk and continued to do it. After the walk, last year, we contacted March of Dimes and said we want to do more. What can we do?”
Michelle O’Malley, executive director of March of Dimes N.H. Chapter, was quick to answer the couple. She said the family had their babies at the Elliot, which is a close partner of the March of Dimes.
“The family has been selfless in donating their time and money to the March of Dimes in New Hampshire,” O’Malley said. “They can share their personal story but I will say that without the research of the March of Dimes, the twins would not have received the treatment necessary for their survival.”
Amy and Steve Finnerty now serve as the designated March of Dimes Ambassador Family for New Hampshire for 2014. Amy has spoken at schools and civic groups, and the couple will advocate for the organization at March for Babies walks.
“We want to go to events and tell anyone who wants to know to become more involved with March of Dimes,” Amy said. “I tell my story and talk about how the March of Dimes has helped us. We know because of the March of Dimes, our twins are here, today. We want to give back.”
The couple intends to be on hand for the March for Babies walk scheduled for Saturday, April 26, at Merrimack Premium Outlets, and another of the events on Sunday, May 18, at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. More events are scheduled elsewhere in the state.
For more information or to donate to the Finnerty’s upcoming March for Babies walk, visit www.marchforbabies.org/finnertytwins or www.marchofdimes.com. Updates also are posted on Facebook at March of Dimes N.H.