A Double Blessing

MOUNDSVILLE – As twins Nathan and Nicole Spangler prepare to celebrate their second birthday with a small family get-together Feb. 25, their mom, Jill, is thankful to have two healthy, curious toddlers.

“They’re right on track,” Spangler said.

Considering that only two years ago she and her husband, Pat, expected an April 22 due date, the twins’ early birth at just shy of 32 weeks came as a surprise.

“It’s something I never thought would happen,” Spangler said.

On Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, Jill’s water broke. After she rushed to Wheeling Hospital, doctors sent her to The Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh. For the mom-to-be, the following day brought contractions and an emergency C-section. First-born Nicole weighed a small 3 pounds, 11 ounces, and was 16 1/2 inches. Her brother, Nathan, weighed even less, 3 pounds, and was 16 1/4 inches at birth.

Doctors decided to move the preemies to West Penn’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where they were monitored for heart rate drops and stops in breathing.

“It was scary,” Spangler said. “Luckily my husband and I were able to be there all the time.”

During those six weeks Nathan and Nicole found care in the NICU, their parents spent days by their sides and nights at the Ronald McDonald House. The Spangler family is still in contact with nurses and doctors who cared for Nathan and Nicole during that time.

Once doctors released the twins, they arrived at their Moundsville home on April 6. The NICU-departure brought Jill and Pat both joy and anxiety.

“Doctors know you’re ready and that the babies are fine,” she said of the departure. “It’s more convincing the parents that it’s OK.”

They may not have slept well those first months at home, but the support the Spanglers received from family, a babysitter and even Wheeling doctors who maintained communication with the twins’ West Penn caregivers eased Jill and Pat’s worries.

“We’re very blessed with people in our lives,” Spangler said.

Jill appreciates the one-on-one attention West Penn staff provided her family. Even after they left the NICU, the twins continued to wear heart monitors – Nicole until June and Nathan until July – to alert the family of any drop in heart rate.

For at-home assistance, West Penn Hospital connected the Spanglers with West Virginia Birth to Three, a program available for free to West Virginia families with at-risk children. West Virginia Birth to Three therapists and specialists worked with the family throughout the twins’ first year.

The experience has been a trying one from a parenting perspective, but Jill expressed gratitude to those who showed support.

“I’ve learned so much,” said Spangler. “We thought we’d want them to wear heart monitors until they were 20 because (the risks were) so scary.”

Doctors advised the Spanglers that age 2 is usually the time when preemies’ physical development levels with that of average toddlers.

Although their physical growth took longer, the twins’ distinct personalities developed at an early age.

“Nicole is strong-willed. She has a big heart,” Spangler explained. “Nathan is more silly and carefree. He’s always on the go.”

She imagines Nathan’s fascination with gadgets could lead to a future career in engineering. For Nicole, Jill sees her daughter’s patience fitting nicely with teaching. Careers aside, Jill hopes the twins will continue to be as close as they are now.

“They’re inseparable,” Spangler said. “I’m so glad they have each other.”