harper harlow feature
Babies, Parenting

How a visitor almost cost these twin babies their lives

Melissa Imbesi by Melissa Imbesi
February 26th, 2017
harper harlow feature

It’s funny how much pride you instantly feel in your baby as soon as it’s born. You’re in love and in awe of this tiny little being you created and it leaves you wanting to scream from the rooftops to whoever will listen, “Look! Look what I made! Look at my baby! Isn’t she amazing???”  There really is something magical about a freshly born babe and every little movement and sound they make, especially those adorable little sneezes and yawns, can turn even the hardest person into a mushy ball of love.

Other people must feel this way too, because nothing brings people in their droves like newborn baby news. The first night our daughter was born, our hospital room looked like a crowded nightclub. While I was grateful that we were surrounded by people who loved us and were actually interested in the arrival of our babe, something inside me felt uneasy. Every time someone coughed or sneezed or laughed in that tiny room where my baby lay sleeping in a plastic hospital crib, I felt a little twinge of panic. Could a tiny droplet from across the room make it’s way over to her? What if that person didn’t even know they were sick yet and she caught something that her little immune system wasn’t yet strong enough to fight off? The nursing staff must have seen me sweating nervous bullets and eventually asked everyone to clear out for the night….and I was so grateful to them because I know I’d never have felt comfortable enough to ask it myself.

That tiny droplet I worried about fortunately remained an unrealised fear for us, but it’s a very real situation for Melbourne mum Laura Wallis. At just six weeks old, Laura’s twin girls, Harper and Harlow, are in hospital fighting for their lives after they were exposed to RSV from a visitor shortly after their birth. While RSV presents as a common cold-like virus in adults, it is disastrous for tiny babies. For three days, Laura has sat by her daughters’ bedsides and watched their tiny bodies struggle to take a breath. She has watched them be fed by tubes. She has sat, staring at the monitors, praying that they survive.

The hospital is Harper and Harlow's home for now.

The hospital is Harper and Harlow’s home for now.

It began on Tuesday when the smaller of the twins, Harper, was rushed to hospital when Laura noticed that she had gone blue around the mouth. After being sent home on Wednesday, by Thursday, both girls had become very ill, with little Harper in the gravest condition. “I went to wake her up and she just went floppy and was breathing really heavily,” Laura told the Daily Mail. “I was terrified I thought I was going to lose her – the ambulance came straight away and by the time I got to the hospital she was attached to oxygen with a feeding tube.”

While Harlow remains in hospital with her sister, she doesn’t require the oxygen her smaller sister does, however this could all change in a moment says Laura. “So far when her levels have dipped down too low she has been able to get them back up herself but as soon as she can’t they will have to help her.”

Understandably, Laura is beyond furious at the person who visited her babies (who were born five weeks premature) when they were feeling unwell. “When the girls were born they were five weeks premmie. I explained to all my family and friends that even minor illnesses could harm them and told them not to come over if they were sick,” Laura said. “I just can’t believe someone decided they would be able to risk it with my babies. Now they could die.”

Darling little Harper. She's a fighter!

Darling little Harper. She’s a fighter!

From one person’s thoughtless actions, Laura has been stripped of what should be the happiest days of her life. “I feel like this has taken away my ability to be their mother - I just have to sit back and watch them and watch the nurses care for them and hope they pull through,” she said. At a time she thought she’d be cuddling and kissing her babies endlessly, Laura instead is too frightened to show them too much affection because, “Every time we hold them for too long all of the alarms go off.” On top of it all, she also has two other children, aged three and six, who are in the care of family and friends while she remains by her daughters’ side, wishing nothing more than to take them home and begin life again as a family. “I am feeling very stretched about it – I can’t leave the hospital and my girls to be with my other two children because the twins need me. But it is heartbreaking because my boys need me as well.”

While nothing can change Laura’s devastating situation right now, it can easily be prevented from happening to other families. In Laura’s words, “Even if you just have a runny nose don’t risk it – with babies it can be life or death because they haven’t built up a strong immune system.”

There’s no doubt that the person who infected Harper and Harlow didn’t think they’d cause them any harm when they went to visit them that day. It is more likely that they were so excited to meet these precious little girls that they thought that a minor cold couldn’t possibly be such a threat to their health. It’s really made me realise how careful we need to be around newborns and how we really need to be in tune with how our bodies are feeling before we visit. While I know first hand how uncomfortable it can be to ask people to leave if they’re feeling unwell, it’s also super important for the health of all involved. We’re wishing Harper and Harlow all the best for a speedy and full recovery.

 Did you have any rules around people visiting your babies when they were born?

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