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Published on January 11, 2019

Dan and Sarah Heckmann

Twin Boys Defy Odds With a Stitch and a Prayer

When twins Jude and Levi were born at 37 weeks they went home with their parents just three days later. There was no stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for these boys, which is even more astonishing if you rewind to their 20-week ultrasound.

It was then that parents Dan and Sarah Heckmann were told she had an incompetent cervix and was at risk of going into labor. It isn’t until 24 weeks that babies have a chance of surviving outside the womb.

Just two hours later, Heckmann was in surgery to have an emergency cerclage placed in her uterus by Les Heddleston, MD, and his team. The tiny tie is meant to close the uterus and keep the expectant mother from going into pre-term labor. But it’s not often used with twins and isn’t always effective.

It can only be done if the mother isn’t already in labor, which was the case for Heckmann.

A Stitch and Bed Rest

“It’s a pretty simple idea, but tricky to put in,” said Heddleston, perinatologist with Avera Medical Group Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “You can put it in and it may not work very well or it may work for two or three weeks and then the mother ends up delivering.”

Heddleston worked with Heckmann’s OB-GYN Amal Salama, DO, FACOG, to co-manage the pregnancy.

“At that point we’re just hoping we get a month, maybe get these little babies to a place where they have a chance,” Salama said. “To get them another 16 weeks was the best possible scenario. We’re sitting here now taking a deep breath, but there was a lot of walking on pins and needles for some time.”

On bed rest, Heckmann began to tick off the days and then the weeks. At 24 weeks she was readmitted to the hospital for signs of pre-term labor and was given some medication to stop labor.

At that point, Heckmann credits Heddleston for saving the babies’ lives a second time. “I attribute these guys lives’ to him,” she said. “Without him we wouldn’t be sitting here.”

From Bed Rest to Natural Labor

Under Heddleston’s monitoring she was able to go home and maintain bed rest. She bided her time with visits from friends and family, crossword puzzles and sharing updates about the boys on social media.

“We were surprised by how many people were invested in our story,” she said. “It was nice to know people out there cared who didn’t even know us and were praying for us.”

At 28 weeks they celebrated with cake. At 36 weeks the cerclage was removed and she was encouraged to walk for the first time in weeks. “We ended up getting an induction date set, which at the beginning of this was just in our wildest dreams,” Heckmann said.

Instead, she went into labor and had a natural delivery.

Every step of the way the twin boys continued to exceed expectations for the best possible outcome. The Heckmanns, though sleep deprived, are reminded of what could have happened as they keep celebrating milestones with their boys.

“It’s not lost on us how special they are,” Heckmann said. “We have a real story to think back on how we might not have had them. I want moms of twins to know there is something that can be done in this situation. We’re a success story and we wanted to give other people encouragement and hope.”

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