When Northern Ireland mum Samantha's twins arrived, baby Ben survived for only 42 minutes... but his brother Logan is now a bouncing little boy
Samantha McDowell, from Belfast, tells Lisa Smyth how she watched her child cling to life while grieving the heartbreaking loss of his brother
Born four months early and weighing a little over 1lb, Logan Pedraza McDowell is a living miracle. Arriving into the world just a few days beyond the stage in pregnancy regarded as viable, his tiny body suffered a range of life-threatening complications associated with premature babies.
After spending 145 days in hospital, he was finally allowed to go home. Now, aged seven-months-old, there are few obvious signs of the traumatic journey he has travelled in his short life.
His mum, Samantha McDowell (27), from north Belfast, discovered that she was pregnant with twins at a nine-week scan.
But rather than offering her the reassurance she was looking for following an earlier miscarriage, the news that she was carrying two children, whom she named Ben and Logan, only added to her anxiety.
A few weeks later, she attended her booking appointment at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, where her worst fears were confirmed.
Samantha was told she had a condition known as twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a disorder of the placenta which results in one baby getting more blood than the other.
"You could already see a big difference in the size of the babies," explains Samantha, a care assistant.
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"I was told there was nothing they could do at that stage.
"They were quite honest and open and said at 13 weeks there was no consultant or surgeon who would do anything until at least 17 weeks.
"In the meantime, I had to go to the hospital every week to be scanned.
"I actually went out and bought myself a doppler and checked for the heartbeats before my appointments.
"I wanted to prepare myself. If something was wrong, I wanted to know, rather than have someone else tell me."
As soon as she reached 17 weeks, Samantha, who is also mum to three-year-old Oscar, was flown to London, assessed at St George's Hospital and told she did not have TTTS after all.
Instead, Samantha, who is engaged to 33-year-old nurse Toni, was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction, with Ben's growth being dangerously slow.
"We were told he was getting about 5% from the placenta, while Logan was growing fine," she says.
"It was a very blunt conversation. We were told it was a very serious situation because the babies shared the placenta.
"If Ben passed away, it could cause Logan to have a heart attack or leave him very disabled.
"They offered me foetal reduction, which essentially was a termination, and I just couldn't do it.
"We were told the chances of Ben surviving were extremely slim, but I couldn't be the one to take that away from him.
"At that stage, his heart was perfect, so we went back home and hoped I could make it to 24 weeks.
"It was horrendous. I was living week to week, day to day, wondering what was going on in my tummy, but Ben held his own right up to the last scan I had."
Just a few days later, Samantha's waters broke and she was taken to hospital. It turned out that her labour had started as a result of a sudden and severe urinary tract infection.
Doctors tried to stop the process and were initially successful.
However, after a few days it became crystal clear that her baby boys were on their way.
Ben was born naturally, weighing just 11oz, while Logan was born by emergency caesarean section.
"They asked me in the delivery suite when I was in the middle of labour if I wanted them to do anything for Ben when he was born," Samantha says.
"They told me they could try and get a tube in and resuscitate him.
"I told them to try him with the breathing equipment and, if that worked, to power on.
"But I work as a care assistant and I've seen CPR done on 90-year-old ladies who are made of nothing. I didn't want that for Ben.
"He'd already fought so long and hard. If he was supposed to be here, he would be here.
"He was born just after 11pm. He was given to Toni and survived for 42 minutes.
"I was put to sleep straight away for the C-section.
"When I came back around, it was around two in the morning.
"When I woke up, the nurses had him (Ben) all wrapped up in a white gown in his wee cuddle cot right next to me.
"I do sometimes feel a bit angry about it - that I didn't even get a chance to hold him - but at the same time I know that it had to happen that way to save Logan. It's a real bittersweet thing for me."
While she spent some precious time with Ben, a nurse from the neonatal unit came to see her and told her Logan was doing well.
The following morning, she was taken to meet her miracle son for the first time.
It was a magical moment for Samantha, particularly as Logan appeared to be doing so well despite his traumatic arrival into the world.
However, within a few days, he had begun to struggle more and more with his breathing and had to go back on a ventilator.
He was also affected by a problem with his heart which put additional strain on his already vulnerable lungs.
He was subsequently diagnosed with necrotising enterocolitis, a condition associated with premature babies in which a part of the bowel dies.
As a result, Logan struggled to put on weight, making it even harder for his organs to cope.
"His wee tummy was so distended, his skin was almost splitting," explains Samantha.
"They had to stop his feed and he was only getting his drip. He was on antibiotics for about two weeks and they said surgery was going to be the next option, although he didn't have enough weight for that to happen.
"It was a nightmare. When I look back, I have no idea how I managed to cope with it all.
"Every morning I was getting up and sorting out who was taking Oscar for the day and then I was spending the day at the hospital with Logan.
"From the very beginning, it was touch and go whether Logan would survive.
"It was definitely the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life.
"He got pneumonia and there was one occasion when his tube got blocked and he turned navy blue.
"They were all working on him and they kept asking me if I wanted to leave, but I couldn't. I wasn't going to leave Logan.
"He just seemed to go through so much. Every time one thing got sorted, something else would happen.
"He was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity and had to have surgery for that.
"He had pneumonia at one stage and he also needed an operation on a hernia.
"Throughout it all, I got so much support from Tiny Life. They were amazing.
"It was getting to the stage where Logan was getting a bit bigger and I had no clothes for him at all.
"I hadn't bought anything when I was pregnant because I was so scared, but Helen, a volunteer from the charity, dropped in a big bag of tiny baby clothes.
"She brought in another bag when he got slightly bigger.
"It was tough for us financially because I was in the hospital all the time and I had to pay to get back and forward. Toni wasn't working because he was looking after Oscar, but we still had our mortgage to pay. Tiny Life was there for us through it all."
When it came to bringing Logan home for the first time, Samantha was delighted and terrified.
It also took Logan's big brother some time to come to terms with the new arrival.
"We were in the car on the way home and Logan was crying. Oscar said we had to take him back to the hospital," says Samantha.
"He said he was broken because he was crying. It's been tough for Oscar because we were such a wee team.
"After Logan was born, he was being looked after by someone different every day while I was at the hospital.
"It's been a lot for him, but he loves Logan now and we're looking forward to our first Christmas together as a family.
"I didn't want to bury Ben, so we had him cremated. I have his ashes in a teddy bear that sits in the hall, so he's the first thing you see when you come in the front door.
"For Christmas this year, I'm going to dress Oscar up as Santa and Logan as an elf and get a wee picture of them and the teddy bear in front of the Christmas tree, so they're all together.
"When Logan was in the hospital and his breathing was bad, I would play him a recording I have of Ben's heartbeat and it would always settle him.
"Things like that are so precious. I know how lucky I am to have Logan and Oscar.
"There was another premature baby in hospital at the same time as Logan. He was originally discharged, but now he is back in intensive care and it just breaks my heart.
"We have been through so much, but I do feel like we're through the other side now. Logan is just such a special wee baby."
For more information about premature baby charity Tiny Life or details of the support the organisation offers, log on to www.tinylife.org.uk