Twin sisters born at 22 weeks in the US have become the world’s second most premature babies ever to survive.
Mother Tracey Hernandez from North Carolina said: “When I went into labour they told me the survival rate for them was zero per cent. They said that babies born at less than 23 weeks just don’t make it”.
Makenzie and Makayla are now four months old and are expected to return home from Duke University Hospital in North Carolina next month.
Makenzie weighed less than 1lb 1oz when born, while Makayla weighed 1lb 3oz.
Their mother said: “I feel blessed. They are a creation of God and I have watched them develop outside the womb”.
“When I first saw them I just thought ‘wow’,” she said, adding: “Their skin looked see through and they could fit in the palm of my hand.”
The twins have since needed medical treatment, including back and heart surgery, but are due to return home next month.
In North Carolina, abortions are only permitted after 20 weeks if the life or health of the mother is deemed to be endangered. However, it is reported that many US hospitals leave babies born at 23 weeks or earlier to die as they are not believed to be capable of surviving.
But Hernandez called for the age of viability to be lowered, saying: “My babies are proof that 22 weekers can survive if given the chance.”
In the UK, abortion is permitted up to 24 weeks for most reasons but is available up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome and even cleft palate. But in the UK last year it was revealed that four out of ten babies born at 23 weeks are now surviving when cared for in neonatal units.
Neonatal doctors at one Newcastle upon Tyne hospital saw survival rates for 23 weeks’ gestation almost triple from 25 per cent in 2006 to between 60 and 70 per cent in 2018. Survival stories of babies born before 24 weeks such as Makenzie and Makayla are increasingly common.
Earlier this month, a baby who defied doctors’ expectations died peacefully in his parents’ arms aged five.
Jaxon Buell, also from North Carolina, was born with most of his skull missing due to a condition called microhydranencephaly, a rare disorder that affects the brain’s shape.
His parents, Brittany and Brandon, were told by doctors that he wouldn’t survive more than a year but they refused to abort him.
Brandon said: “We want to let other families know that even when there’s a dark situation, every life should be celebrated, valued and cherished”.