One piece of advice that resonated with Barry and Rachel Wardle when their premature-born twins first arrived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was to constantly let them know of your presence.
“Talk to them, touch them, read to them, let them hear your voice. They’ll fight harder if they know you’re here,” Barry remembered being told.
Barry even recorded himself reading a book so it could be played when he wasn’t there.
“And I think they were right, honestly.”
James and Claire Wardle overcame long odds after being born prematurely at 23-weeks gestation, each weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces. Today they’re active 3 year olds attending preschool and sitting proudly in the 50th percentile range on growth charts.
“They weren’t even on the charts for the longest time,” Rachel said.
Each child has also been discharged from all their medical specialist providers, too. What Rachel called the “closet-full of equipment” to treat breathing difficulties are all gone, too.
Attendees of the recently held Champions for Our Valley’s Children event in Youngstown heard a first-hand account of the Wardles’ story. They also got to meet James and Claire.
The event highlighted the hospital’s progress in the Mahoning Valley and recognized donors, volunteers, staff and community partners who’ve made it possible. The Hirschbeck family, who formed the Magic of Michael Foundation in memory of their son who passed away in 2014 from complications of Adrenoleukodystrophy (ADL), a rare genetic brain disease, received the Champions for Our Valley’s Children award.
The Wardles credit the doctors and staff at Akron Children’s not only for saving their children’s lives, but for the nurturing they did to help them, as parents, get to the finish line as well.
“We had some bad moments where things didn’t look like they were going to go your way, but they had a way of raising your spirits and just being there and helping you stay positive,” Barry said.
“We’ve cried with them. They’ve cried with us,” Rachel said.
James spent 168 days in the NICU, only to be out-done by his sister’s 294-day stay. After being sent home, Claire was on a ventilator and had to be monitored and watched around the clock by nurses or caregivers. What doctors initially told them could be a 3-4 year process, Claire got through it in just 2.
“The unknown is the hardest part,” Rachel said as she recounted her twins’ journey. “There’s so many things that can go wrong, but then there’s so many that can go right. You just have to keep your faith, listen to the doctors and listen to your gut at the same time. And just keep going.”
Now, it’s James and Claire who keep going. And thriving.
“Claire’s very inquisitive and always on the go, while James loves to run around almost as much as he loves to cuddle,” Barry said.
“They’re always laughing and chasing each other around the house,” Rachel said. “That’s probably their favorite thing to do, but they also like to play independently. They’re definitely their own people.”
While their days in the NICU are well behind them, Barry and Rachel continue to leave an impact for the families there now. They recently concluded their first Super Babies Book Drive for the babies at the Akron and Boardman NICUs.
They set out to collect 200 new books, but family and friends overwhelmed them with a response of more than 600.
This month they personally delivered bundles of books to each NICU child along with these words of advice for the parents: “Take it one day at a time. Be there for your baby. Celebrate everything, no matter how small. Ask questions. And most importantly, have faith.”