When twins Marcos and Mateo Rodriguez were born, 15 weeks early, their hands were about the size of their dad’s fingernail. But their size, both under 2 pounds, was not their doctors’ biggest worry.
The boys had lung problems. A single upper respiratory infection could end their lives. And there was the ever-present danger that treatment necessary to save their young lives could also lead to long-term eyesight and brain development issues.
Premature babies sometimes have respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) because their immature lungs do not produce enough surfactant, a protein necessary to keep the lungs from collapsing.
“The boys were given shots of a synthetic type of surfactant, which was a March of Dimes innovation,” says Cathy Rodriguez, the twins’ mother.
The March of Dimes has funded research that developed surfactant therapy, which has cut deaths from RDS in half since it was introduced in 1990, according to the March of Dimes.
The entire Rodriguez family, including the twins’ father, Adan, will help give back to the March of Dimes at the 2016 Greenville March for Babies, on Saturday, April 30. As of April 26, Cathy was the 3.4-mile walk’s top fundraiser with more than $3,700 raised online. Marcos and Mateo will be the 2017 Greenville March of Dimes ambassadors.
The Western Division of the March of Dimes, which will be expanded in June to include Asheville, has 14 fundraising events each year, collecting $2.5 million total in the Upstate last year, says Laura Goodwin, executive director of market development.
“We expect more than 3,000 people at the Greenville Walk on April 30, and we have three other walks that day in Spartanburg, Anderson and Oconee counties,” Goodwin says. “We’ve already had the Laurens and Greenwood walks, and the Pickens’ walk will be May 7.”
The money raised in the local March of Dimes’ events helps fund research, as well as local community services, Goodwin says. “We have educational projects, including public health campaigns, continuing education for nurses, and NICU family support at the Greenville Health System.”
The Rodriguez couple knew two months before their sons were born that there was a major problem. “At 16 weeks, they referred me to maternal fetal medicine,” Cathy says. “They noticed twin B was smaller than twin A.”
Her doctors put her on bed rest. Cathy worked from home on a laptop. The couple kept a hospital bag packed, knowing the boys could be born early and at any moment.
“I was always worried,” says the twins father, Adan Rodriguez. “It’s like knowing the plane is going down at some point, and you just hope everybody is going to survive.”
The “crash” occurred at a 25th-week appointment when a sonogram of the twins alarmed the medical team.
“Three different doctors and two sonogram techs came in and examined the ultrasound, and they came back and said, ‘We think you need to go to the hospital for continual monitoring,’” Cathy recalls.
Baby B was having problems with blood flow through his tiny umbilical cord, although baby A was fine, she says.
“We were there three hours, and the babies were delivered,” she says.
Immediately after the twins’ birth, Cathy felt peace and confidence that the boys would be fine. She had no doubts that they’d both survive until nurses brought her Marcos, who was baby B, but not Mateo, before the boys were taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Greenville Memorial Hospital.
“It crossed my mind that they didn’t think Marcos would make it, but I was so overwhelmed by the situation that I didn’t know what to feel,” Cathy says. “I didn’t cry until friends came in my room and were crying.”
Surviving and thriving
Fortunately, the boys survived and eventually thrived while in the NICU. Mateo came home a month before his smaller brother, and both have had laser eye surgeries, treatment to prevent severe respiratory infections, physical and other therapies, special nutritional supplements, and other therapies to help them grow and reach their physical and mental potentials. Also, the babies had to be kept indoors and away from most people early on, Cathy recalls.
“Both had underdeveloped immune systems,” Cathy says. “The only thing that can solve most of their problems is time or treatment administered with time.”
At age two, the boys are small, but energetic and talkative, and they love Elmo, the couple says.
“Both boys are learning Spanish words, which I love. They’ll come up and ask for juice in Spanish,” Cathy says. “Mateo calls everyone his ‘girlfriend.’ We’re not sure where he picked it up, but it’s cute.”
Marcos is a quiet child, but very curious, Adan says. “We see him exhibiting better eyesight. He can run around without his glasses and avoid most obstacles.”