Lockdown twins Flo and Amelia Richford beat the odds after surviving TWO separate life-saving ops while still in the womb.
And while the seven-month-old pair are both healthy and happy, parents Hanna and James are still recovering from the agonies they went through to get them here.
The sisters were conceived through IVF in a race against time as clinics prepared to close when lockdown kicked in last year.
With just 48 hours to go, a single embryo was successfully implanted in Hanna’s womb.
Hanna said: “It was a tense 48 hours, but we managed it. Two weeks later we had a positive pregnancy test.
“A few weeks after that we had a scan showing it was twins.”
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That was especially poignant as the couple had started trying for a family in 2016 and had conceived twins naturally – but lost them eight weeks into the pregnancy.
Hanna, 34, said: “We couldn’t believe it. After losing our twins the first time it seemed as if these twins had been sent as a gift.
“I’d only had one embryo put in my womb yet it had split into two. It was as though it was meant to be.”
Her pregnancy went smoothly until she was 20 weeks pregnant.
Doctors told her the girls had a rare condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS).
An uneven blood flow means one twin receives almost all the nutrients while the other gets very few. It can be life-threatening for both babies.
Hanna explained: “We’d been warned this was possible because they were identical and shared a placenta.
“But it was still a shock – everything had gone so well up until 20 weeks.”
The condition came on so quickly and was so serious that within hours Hanna was being rushed into the operating theatre at St George’s Hospital, London.
She was warned the surgery could kill either or both twins – yet it was also their only chance of survival.
But as both pulled through, the couple’s joy turned to horror within days. Hanna and James were told the girls had a second life-threatening condition and would need another operation.
This time they had been diagnosed with Twin Anaemia Polycythemia Sequence (TAPS), where one twin becomes very anaemic and the other gets overloaded with blood.
Hanna said: “It was devastating news. We’d been warned about the TTTS but no one had mentioned the possibility of TAPS as it’s so rare. It was too much to take in – it was terrifying.
“We both thought we couldn’t go through this heartache again, not knowing if they’d survive.
“But it was their only chance so we had no choice – they had to have it.”
Hanna was taken down for the op and the couple faced an agonising wait to see if the girls had survived.
With the surgery complete, a scan showed two heartbeats. Both twins had made it through for a second time.
Hanna adds: “It was such a relief. To think they’d survived surgery twice in the womb was just a miracle.”
With two operations already under their belt, Flo and Amelia were born safely in October last year.
Hanna said: “They’ve been through so much. They were so unlucky to have had both conditions – it’s incredibly rare.”
The couple’s journey to parenthood has been a long one.
Hanna, of Bisley, Surrey, said of her first distressing pregnancy four years ago: “I’d found out I was pregnant, and when I went for a check at eight weeks they told me both heartbeats had stopped. It was devastating.”
The couple kept on trying for a family but were diagnosed with unexplained fertility after three years. They were about to start IVF when lockdown was announced.
Hanna said: “To be told we had unexplained infertility was heartbreaking as I’d been able to get pregnant that first time.
“It didn’t give us any reasons or answers as to why I wasn’t able to get pregnant again naturally. We knew then that IVF was going to be our only option, but then the clinics announced they were closing down, just as we were about to have our treatment.
“We’d pinned so much of our hopes and dreams on it going ahead. It was the only way we were ever going to become parents.”
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Doctors advised them not to go ahead with the embryo transfer as it was just hours before clinics across the UK closed their doors.
But they had waited so long for a family that they were determined to have their embryo implanted.
The twins were born when Hanna was 34 weeks pregnant at the end of October last year – Amelia weighing 4lb5oz, and Flo at 5lb.
They spent just two weeks in hospital before being allowed home.
Hanna said: “They’re doing so well now. They have an unbreakable bond.
“Flo is the cuddly one who is outgoing, and Amelia’s the shy one. When they’re older we’ll tell them what a pair of lockdown miracles they really are.”
A spokeswoman for the Twins Trust said: “To have both conditions like this is extremely rare.
“It’s thanks to the brilliant medical team that the twins have survived and are doing so well.”
Risk sharing one placenta
TTTS is a rare condition affecting identical twins – who often share one placenta and the network of blood vessels that supply them with oxygen and nutrients. It arises when one twin gets too little flow of blood and nutrients and the other gets too much, putting both at risk of heart failure. If untreated, the twins have a 90 per cent risk of death.
TAPS is also a rare condition affecting identical twins when the placenta is shared. It occurs when there are unequal counts of red blood cells. The result is that one twin develops anaemia – too little haemoglobin bringing oxygen to the blood – while the other suffers an overload, known as polycythemia, putting a strain on the heart.