To have a sick child in hospital is every parent’s worst nightmare.
But to have two premature babies, each weighing little more than a bag of sugar, fighting for breath and struggling to maintain their own body temperature, is unimaginable to most.
Bexhill couple Gill and Jason Earle-Henson were over the moon when they discovered they were expecting twins - their first children together.
But after the babies made an early appearance in April 2015, the tiny tots faced a giant fight for survival.
Gill said: “I was expecting twins and unexpectedly went into labour and had the twins at 26 weeks.
“I had them at the Conquest Hospital and they were very poorly and needed to be transferred to the neonatal unit in Brighton.”
Herbie and Fleur were transferred separately over to the Trevor Mann Baby Unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton for the specialist care they desperately needed.
Herbie weighed only 2lb 5oz and Fleur just 2lb 1oz, and they both had to be wrapped in plastic for insulation.
Gill said: “They needed life-support and without it they would not have been able to breathe.
“They needed to be in an incubator to maintain their body temperature.”
The twins also both had jaundice and were repeatedly under sun lamps.
They also relied on ventilation at less than 24 hours old.
The tiny twosome had to undergo regular scans to ensure there was no bleeding on the brain.
With no idea how long their babies would be in the neonatal unit, Gill and Jason faced the prospect of a daily 33 mile journey from the family home in Beacon Hill, Bexhill.
Luckily the couple were offered a room at Ronald McDonald House Brighton - one of 14 Houses across the UK that provides free accommodation to families with children in hospital - while the twins continued to receive specialist treatment and care.
Gill said: “With it being so far away from home, it was not feasible to keep travelling to and from.
“Ronald McDonald House kindly found us a room which was like a home from home, with kitchen facilities and a lounge if we wanted to use it.”
There are 14 Ronald McDonald Houses in the UK and in 2015 they helped support more than 7,000 families with children in hospital.
The Brighton House provides free accommodation to families that have children being treated at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital and the Trevor Mann Baby Unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, a specialist department for the care of premature and sick newborn babies like little Herbie and Fleur.
The original Ronald McDonald House Brighton opened its doors to families in April of 1999 and was relocated to a new site in 2007.
In 2015, the House helped 203 families like the Earle-Henson’s stay close to their children in hospital.
The House has eight en-suite bedrooms and communal areas for families, including a lounge, laundry and a small patio garden, and enabled Gill and Jason to be just seconds away from the twins.
Being so nearby to them meant that they could see them anytime of day without having to travel for up to two hours each way from their home.
Gill also found the support from staff at the House, and other parents in similar situations, helped pull them through some of the darker days.
The 38-year-old added: “It was really scary.
“Obviously being able to be close to them at Ronald McDonald House really helped.
“We had telephones in our room straight to the ward, so we could call them anytime if we wanted to.”
After eight-and-a-half weeks at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, the twins were transferred back to the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, where Herbie and Fleur spent a further five weeks before Gill and Jason were allowed to finally take their little fighters home.
Fleur had suffered problems with her heart, which has been fixed with medication, while Herbie was on oxygen for around three months following his release from hospital.
But more than a year on, the cute as a button duo are happy, healthy and hitting their milestones.
Proud mum Gill said: “They are all right.
“Fleur is doing really well, Herbie is doing really well too, but he is smaller as he had some weight gain issues.
“But they are now on track.
“Developmentally, they are doing as they should be.”
Now, generous Gill and Jason have made a selfless gesture to say thank you to the teams that saved the lives of their tiny tots and supported the family during the difficult early months of the twins’ lives.
Following their turbulent year, the couple tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony at the picturesque Battle Abbey School on May 28.
Instead of asking for wedding gifts, the bride and groom requested their guests donate to the Trevor Mann Baby Unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital and to the Ronald McDonald House charity.
Their generous well wishers responded by digging deep and donating £1,400, which will be split between the two causes.
Gill said: “The staff at the neonatal unit were fantastic.
“We were immensely grateful for the support of Ronald McDonald House and the Trevor Mann Baby Unit to give us support and a home while we were away from home.”
Sally Gabriel, house manager at Ronald McDonald House Brighton, said: “Gillian and Jason stayed with us at the Brighton House for a total of eight and a half weeks, which was a long time to be away from their home in Bexhill.
“I remember it was very touch and go with Herbie and Fleur, so it is great to know they are both doing so well now.
“We want to wish the compassionate couple a big congratulations on their wedding day and say a massive thank you for their generous gesture of asking guests to donate money to us instead of buying wedding gifts.
“It is things like this that make us realise just how passionate families are about our charity, and how valued the service and support we offer is.”
To find out more about Ronald McDonald Houses, visit the website at www.rmhc.org.uk.
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