One of Britain’s smallest twins boys who was born at just 23 weeks and weighed less than a tin of beans has died in his mother’s arms aged nine months after a battle with a chronic lung disease.
Talia Keates, 33, who was already a mother-of-four, gave birth to twin brothers Ashley and Joe in April last year.
Talia, from Wiltshire, went into labour 17 weeks early, before welcoming the boys, who were so premature their eyes were still fused shut.
Talia Keates, 33, pictured with twin brothers Ashley and Joe (left) and Ashley, pictured right. He passed away in his mother’s arms aged nine months after battling a chronic lung disease
They spent 129 days in intensive care with Ashley, born at 14.2oz (0.9lb) and Joe, born at 15.1oz (0.95lb), slightly larger in 0-3 month babygrows.
At the time, Talia and her husband Oliver, 35, were warned their babies might not survive.
They seemed to have beaten the odds when they returned to their home in Trowbridge at four-and-a-half months old.
But tragically, Ashley was diagnosed with incurable pulmonary hypertension in November 2019, as a result of a chronic lung disease that both twins suffered due to their prematurity.
He passed away in January of this year in the arms of his mother, who said: ‘It just doesn’t seem fair. They’d already been through so much and beaten the odds as a pair.
‘At the time Ashley passed away, Joe woke up screaming in his cot at home. It breaks my heart they won’t get to grow up side by side.’
Twins Ashley and Joe pictured when they were in hospital. Talia went into labour 17 weeks early before welcoming the boys, who were so premature their eyes were still fused shut
Talia and Oliver, a business owner, found out they were having twins in November 2018.
They ‘already had their hands full’ with four children at home – Imogen, eight, Jacob, seven, Theo, six, and Sebastian, aged three – but were excited to expand their happy family.
When they discovered they were twin boys at a later scan, they decided to name them Joe and Ashley, and set about buying matching baby grows for the pair.
But Talia began to bleed heavily at 17 weeks and was rushed to Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset.
Doctors couldn’t work out what was wrong so sent her home – but just three weeks later Talia’s waters broke in one of the amniotic sacs which contained Joe.
Although a termination was suggested, Talia held on until 23 weeks, when she finally went into labour and was warned that Joe, the larger of the two twins, would not survive.
Despite the odds, Joe and Ashley were delivered safely on April 16th 2019, at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, weighing just 403g and 429g respectively – each less than an iPad.
Both were rushed into critical care where they remained for a few months – and Talia couldn’t even touch her newborns until they were five-weeks-old.
Talia with her son, left, and her husband Oliver, right, pictured with Ashley. Talia and Oliver, a business owner, found out they were having twins in November 2018
Talia said: ‘They were taken straight to the neonatal unit. It was awful, you never know if you are going to get a call to say they haven’t made it – if they are going to survive.
‘Their skin was so fragile that our touch could have broken in – and their little eyes were fused shut as they were so underdeveloped.’
The babies spent 129 days in the unit, battling sepsis and various other complications, before being transferred to Royal United Hospital Bath, and then finally being allowed home in August 2019 when they were four-and-a-half months old.
The pair remained on oxygen as both had been diagnosed with chronic lung disease due to their prematurity and under-developed organs.
But doctors assured that as the twins got bigger, their lungs would grow and they should beat the disease.
Talia added: ‘Joe was such a placid little baby, while Ashley had more of a temper.
‘But the pair of them were like two peas in a pod, and it was magical to watch them and have them home.’
The family thought they were ‘out of the woods’ and on the way to a full recovery – but sadly that was not the case.
Talia and Oliver began to worry about Ashley, as he wasn’t putting on as much weight as Joe and had always needed more oxygen than his brother.
They took him to Bristol Children’s Hospital in November 2019 and were given the devastating news that Ashley had pulmonary hypertension – a serious condition that can damage the heart and lead to heart failure.
It had been caused by the chronic lung disease the twins had had since birth, and the family were told it was incurable.
Ashley, pictured. The twin brothers remained on oxygen as both had been diagnosed with chronic lung disease due to their prematurity and under-developed organs
Just a short while later, Ashley was ventilated, until January 16th when doctors took the parents aside and told them that Ashley wasn’t going to make it.
His lungs were too weak and they were told he would never breathe on his own. That night, a nurse switched off the ventilator and placed Ashley in Talia’s arms.
‘Oliver and I sobbed uncontrollably as we told Ashley how much we loved him,’ Talia said.
‘We cuddled him for 40 minutes, before our tiny boy passed away in my arms. He was only nine months old, and I will never get over the heartbreak.’
Talia’s mum, Linzey, 56, had stayed with their other children that night, and said that Joe had ‘felt it’ when Ashley passed away.
Talia added: ‘Mum told us that at the exact time Ashley left us, Joe had woken up in his cot, screaming. He knew his brother was gone.’
The family held Ashley’s funeral on February 14 at their local church and carried him in a white coffin draped in white flowers.
‘The pain of losing him is with me every day, but I’m glad Ashley is no longer suffering,’ Talia said.
Ashley and Joe pictured in their matching baby grows. The family thought they were ‘out of the woods’ and on the way to a full recovery – but unfortunately that was not quite the case
‘It feels so cruel – most of his life he was traumatised by invasive procedures, and for what?
‘It’s horrible to say, but sometimes I wonder if it would have been better for him to have died at birth or for us to have gone ahead with the termination – but then we would have lost Joe too.
‘You can’t let those decisions get you down though – we made them all for the right reasons.’
Joe is now one and weighs 11lb and is finally big enough to fit into the babygrow that Talia bought before he was born.
Talia keeps Ashley’s outfit safely in a memory box given to her by a friend, which the family are filling with keepsakes for Joe to open when he turns 18 in memory of his lost twin.
‘I know he misses his twin – we all do,’ said Talia.
‘They both fought so hard, and I will always be proud of that. Ashley may have lost his battle, but he will always be in our hearts.’