NE Kansas family fights to help babies born too soon

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - It's tough to keep up with two-and-a-half year old Sam.

As he races around Gage Park, fearlessly climbing the playground equipment, it's hard to believe he started life weighing in at just two pounds, seven ounces.

Parents Jenne and Mike Brissett of Troy said they knew twins would be a little higher risk, but after suffering two miscarriages following the birth of their older daughter Hana they were looking forward to their new arrivals.

"We were excited - a little scared, but definitely excited," Jenna said.

Jenna was put on bed rest in the hospital at 25 weeks, and Sam and Finn were born at 27 weeks.

Finn was even smaller than Sam - one pound, six ounces.

"It was just a whole new world you're not prepared for," Jenna said. "Obviously, with twins, you know there's a chance they'll be born early, but we had no idea it would be this early."

The Brissetts aren't alone. Each year, about a half million babies are born too soon. According to the March of Dimes, prematurity is the leading cause of death for newborns and many premature babies struggle with lifelong health issues.

Mike said it was difficult to see his tiny sons in incubators surrounded by machines.

"They had (them) on all kinds of wires and ventilation, so it was a little bit scary," he said.

At four days old, Finn took a turn for the worse and they had to say goodbye.

"It was very hard," Jenna recalls "It was the first time I got to hold Finn and the last as we tried to comfort him as he passed away."

But Sam more than stepped up the fight.

"Within a couple weeks, he was making a lot of good progress and growing. He actually came off the ventilation sooner than they thought he would and by nine weeks we were on our way to going home," Mike said.

While he may be motivated to keep up with big sister, Hana, Jenna and Mike also credit his climb to the work of organizations like the March of Dimes, which offers support services to NICU families, and leads research to prevent premature birth and help babies born too soon.

"Just all the things that they know to watch for at this point when he was so early, various medicines that they gave him, like to close his PDA (heart defefect) - they're able to do that with just medicine, without him having to have a heart surgery that young," Jenna said.

It's a journey they share - both uplifting and heartbreaking - so others may see how far we've come, and the distance yet to go.

"Hopefully, one day when there's a family with twin boys born as early as ours, that they're able to take both of them home, that they're not having to say goodbye to one of them," Jenna said. "We're lucky that we have Sam, but that easily, maybe years ago, not have been the case."

"He's our little miracle. And thank God every day that we have him to enjoy and we have our angel to still be with us at the same time," Mike said.

The Brissetts will lead the way as the ambassador family for this year's March for Babies. The event is Saturday, April 28, at Lake Shawnee. Registration begins at 10 am, with the walk stepping off at 11 am. You can find details, or sign up or donate by clicking here.