Megan Phipps had two previous normal pregnancies, so she had no inkling that the third one would be troublesome.
But early on, she started to have problems, and after multiple doctors' visits, she was diagnosed with uterine didelphys, which means she has two uteruses.
It's fairly rare, occurring in about 1 out of every 3,000 women. What's even more rare, however, is when a woman with the condition becomes pregnant with twins, one in each uterus.
That's what happened to Phipps, and it ended in an extraordinary journey of tragedy and triumph.
About five months into her pregnancy, she went into pre-term labor, and despite doctors' best efforts, they couldn't stop it. So in June, her twin girls, Riley and Reece Martin, were born a day apart, at about 22½ weeks of gestation, at Bryan East Campus.
Riley, who was born June 11, died after 12 days in Bryan's neonatal intensive care unit.
But Reece, who was born June 12 weighing just more than a pound, managed to hang on.
Dr. Craig Sitzman, a neonatologist at Bryan Health, said that a few years ago, most hospitals wouldn't have even have tried to keep babies as young as Riley and Reece alive.
"Babies born this early aren't ready," Sitzman said.
They can't breathe on their own. Their skin is paper-thin, even translucent. Their hearts often don't function correctly.
While at Bryan, Reece had to have nearly a dozen blood transfusions and spent 45 days on a ventilator.
That's what makes the success of her going home so impressive.
After a stay of 144 days in Bryan's NICU, she left the hospital with Phipps and dad Dillon Martin on Nov. 2. The girl who was born weighing little more than a bottle of soda had grown to more than 8 pounds by then.
Though babies born that premature often suffer a host of physical and neurological problems, Reece has not shown any signs of major complications.
"She is a true miracle," said Kallie Gertsch, a nurse in Bryan's NICU who cared for the infant during much of her stay.
Gertsch, who has spent 14 years as a NICU nurse, said the girl was "definitely the biggest success that I have witnessed."
It turns out she also is the youngest preemie born at Bryan to survive and one of only a few that young ever documented worldwide.
Bryan, citing data from the Tiniest Baby Registry at the University of Iowa, said Reece is only the 26th baby ever born before 23 weeks of gestation to survive. No other babies that young from Nebraska are listed in the registry.
Phipps described the roller-coaster experience: the very early births, her own recovery, and the loss of baby Riley.
She said the first days were extremely hard, not only the loss of one child, but the knowledge that, "I could potentially lose another one."
On the day that Riley died, Phipps said she made a promise to Reece, "that as long as she kept fighting, that I would keep fighting with her.
"And she did," Phipps said.
But it was a long, hard road. She said she made the Bryan NICU her home for the nearly five months her daughter was there. COVID-19 rules made it even tougher, because Reece's older siblings weren't allowed to visit their sister.
"It took a toll on me, but I'm glad and thankful that I got to take my baby home."
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