Jessica Sisney of Humble, Texas, was 26 years old and 22 weeks into her first pregnancy. She and husband Richard were doubly grateful for the pregnancy. The first round of in vitro fertilization was successful, and they were expecting twin boys. One evening while out to dinner with her husband and stepdaughter, Jessica was somewhat distracted by increasing swelling in one leg, but she figured it was just par for the course. So far, everything had gone well with her pregnancy. By the time she got home, however, she was becoming concerned. “My leg was all red and purple,” she says, “and it just kept swelling and swelling.” The swelling escalated to the point that it was causing severe pain. “I was in tears all night long,” Jessica says. Around midnight, she asked Richard to take her to the ER. Doctors there found nothing and sent her back home.
The next day, still in pain, Jessica decided to try another ER. This time, they discovered what was causing the problem—a blood clot. This was alarming news as clots sometimes break loose and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism, which can be life threatening. “I found out I have a blood condition called Factor V,” Jessica shares. Factor V is a specific gene mutation that results in an increased tendency to form abnormal blood clots.
Because Jessica was pregnant and the clot was in close proximity to the babies, blood thinners weren’t an option. “I just had to live with it and hope it didn’t move,” she reports. She would need some patience—about 15 weeks’ worth. (Twins are considered full term at 36-37 weeks.)
On April 18th, seven weeks after the Factor V diagnosis, Jessica had an ultrasound. Both babies were doing fine. “Jase didn’t want to look at the camera,” she says, “but Austin was smiling and giving a thumbs up.” She was happy she got to see “the little men”, and that everything appeared normal. But a few hours later, Jessica started bleeding. She needed to get to a hospital ASAP. “When Jessica told me she was bleeding, I panicked,” Richard says, “but Joanie had told us what to do.” Joanie Hare was Jessica’s new OB, whom she’d switched to after she was diagnosed with the blood disorder. “She’s very experienced, very blunt and very direct,” Jessica states. “I like that.” Jessica had also chosen a new place to have her babies, a hospital recommended by her OB and the hospital Jessica now recommends to anyone she encounters who’s expecting. She would have her babies at the Woman’s Hospital of Texas.
But for now, Richard needed to get his wife to the nearest hospital. Joanie would take over after that. They headed for Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital, 10 minutes away. “Joanie had already called the doctor there to say she was sending a helicopter,” Jessica says. “He didn’t think that was necessary, but like I said, she’s very direct.”
The goal was to stop Jessica’s bleeding and keep her from going into labor. She was given an anti-contraction medication…and then it was lights out. Literally. “The power went out,” Jessica say. “And everything worked on the backup generators except the AC.”
Unfortunately the medication couldn’t stop the contractions. But it did have other effects. Jessica says, “It made me…um…let’s just say ‘hormonally rude’. I was hateful! I kept complaining. I just wanted to punch something. That medicine is the devil I tell you!”
Before long, a doctor came in to speak with Jessica. “He told me that my babies were coming,” she shares, “that they had to come.” Austin and Jase weren’t the only ones on their way. Woman’s AirCare had a helicopter en route, piloted by Bob Stolting. With him were Woman’s Hospital Flight Nurse Demi Wilkes and Woman’s AirCare Flight Paramedic Michael Johnson.
Bob Stolting has been with Woman’s AirCare for four years and has been flying for more than four decades. A military retiree, he flew in both Iraq and Bosnia. “When I retired from the Army, I didn’t want to stop working,” he says. “I had always been interested in emergency medicine, the Methodist AirCare base was opening up in Houston at the time I was looking for a job.”
“When the doctor told me the helicopter was coming, that was the first time I felt relief,” Jessica says. It was only a 30-minute drive to Houston, but Jessica knew that might be too long. The flight crew soon showed up at her bedside, introduced themselves and told the Sisneys exactly what would happen between that moment and Jessica’s arrival in Houston.
“I was scared to death when we got to the hospital that day,” says Richard. “I was afraid I was going to lose my wife and my kids. And then in walks the flight crew.”
Bob Stolting says, “I can’t even imagine the anxiety that a woman with a high-risk pregnancy experiences. I always try to go in and meet the mom and reassure her that everything will be alright. Our neonatal teams are great. I truly believe that many babies out there are alive because of our teams.”
“As soon as they came into the room, the care began,” Jessica says. “They were amazing. They told me everything they were going to do, step by step. In the helicopter, the crew gave me a headset so I could talk to them, which helped. I get claustrophobic and I have anxiety. The headset made me feel like I had some control.”
When Richard and his mother-in-law Tanya arrived at Woman’s, they had a pleasant surprise. “When we got to the hospital, the staff knew who we were, and they already had my wife in a room,” Richards says. After all we’d been through, it was like walking into a 5-star hotel.” The pair headed for Jessica’s room, unaware that she was going into labor. “I thought she was there so they could stop the bleeding,” Richard shares. “Then someone comes out and tells me, ‘You need to go outside and call your family and tell them that you’re going to have two boys today.’”
Jessica’s doctors told her, “We’re going to put you to sleep, and when you wake up we’re going to introduce you to your babies.”
It was a nail-biting experience for Richard and the other family members who were there. For a time, it looked like Jessica might not make it. (Richard says he got down on his knees and made a few promises at that point.) Then came an announcement that the babies had been delivered, but Richard couldn’t see them yet. But finally, a nurse said the magic words, “Your wife has been stabilized, and you can see your sons now.”
Jase and Austin Sisney were born on April 19 at 10:33 and 10:34a.m. They weighed in at 2lb. 13 oz. and 2lb. 14oz. “Afterwards, the staff told me how well I did, how amazing I was,” Jessica says. Richard says, “The babies’ diapers were the size of a credit card, but I was just super excited they were here! The whole experience was the best thing and worst thing I’ve ever been through. You find out how strong you are and what you can really handle.”
The twins had passed their biggest test, but they had more to come. They were jaundiced, they needed blood transfusions, they needed CPAP for breathing problems and Austin had a Level 2 brain bleed, which is not unusual in premature babies since the blood vessels in their brains not yet fully developed. All told, they stayed in the hospital for over two months. Austin went home after 73 days. Apparently Jase didn’t like the separation; he was released less than 48 hours later.
Next came the tests specific to life at home. The boys needed heart monitors. Also, they sometimes forgot to breathe, so they’d need liquid caffeine to make sure they didn’t sleep too deeply.
“The boys needed the monitors and the caffeine for two months, so Richard and I didn’t really sleep for two months,” Jessica says. “We were afraid to. We were afraid they’d stop breathing. Then we’d finally fall asleep, and the alarm would go off. We’d both go racing to their room to check on them, and of course, they’d both be breathing because the alarm would have woken them up.”
“Everything since their birth has been nothing short of a miracle,” says Richard. “All the problems they had in the hospital went away. Austin’s brain bleed just disappeared. They had issues when they came home, and those all went away. They’ve only had to go to the doctor twice. It’s thanks to everyone that’s been involved. Everybody did their job to the fullest.”
“They weigh 22 pounds now,” Richard shares. I have their footprints, birth dates and names tattooed on my arm, and now when I put their feet up against the tattooed footprints, they’re double the size.”
“The boys are about to have their second birthday,” Richard shares. Jessica says Austin’s the rowdy one. “He has a horrible temper. He’s like those kids I’d see in the store before I got pregnant where I’d think, if that was my kid, I’d…!” When I was pregnant, Austin always kicked. He came out with that same personality. At four pounds, he was acting like a 20-lb. baby. Jase is a little more sensitive. He gets upset more easily. He’s also the lover. He wants to lay on you, kiss you, snuggle. “
“Something like this really gives you a perspective,” Richard says. “Don’t take anything for granted. Things do happen. And if something happens, be sure you have the right help like we did. The experience we had with the flight crew and with Woman’s Hospital—I can’t say enough. They saved my sons’ lives, and they saved my wife’s life. If it wasn’t for air ambulances, doctors and nurses wouldn’t be able to do what they do. The extra time would eat up every opportunity. The flight crews give that time back to them.”
“It’s very hard to make me happy,” Jessica admits, “so when I say that somebody’s awesome, they’re really awesome!”
Everyone at Woman’s AirCare and REACH is happy to have helped make Jessica—and her entire family—happy. We’d also like to congratulate Jase and Austin on a recent noteworthy event, their second birthday!