BEDFORD - Amy Finnerty's twins were born four years ago, but those first few minutes and days of Caitlyn and Keegan's lives remain fresh in her mind. This Mother's Day, the Bedford mother of three will reflect on how blessed her family has been - and how scary those first weeks of the twins' lives were.
"They were both on a ventilator, and there were times when they would stop breathing," said Finnerty. "It was shocking, the number of tubes and wires my babies had in them. I'll never forget that."
Finnerty, her husband, Steve, and twins Caitlyn and Keegan are the 2014 New Hampshire Ambassador Family for the March of Dimes. They credit the Granite State chapter of the organization with providing support during those difficult first few weeks.
The twins arrived 15 weeks before they were due. When they were born, their bodies were so tiny - Caitlyn weighed just 1 pound, 12 ounces, Keegan weighed 2 pounds - that their lungs struggled to hold even the smallest breaths. A team of specialists at Elliot Hospital worked to keep the babies alive as the parents watched and prayed.
Doctors gave Caitlyn artificial surfactant, a coating agent that helps cells in the lungs expand and take in oxygen, developed through research funded by the March of Dimes. Soon, she was intubated and hooked up to a ventilator, breathing but still considered to be critical condition.
"She couldn't cry because her lungs were underdeveloped," said Amy.
"I was honestly freaking out," said Steve. "They were so small, I was thinking how could they possibly survive?"
Keegan, born two minutes after Caitlyn, also needed artificial surfactant and chest compressions to keep him alive. He was also hooked up to a ventilator and listed in critical condition.
Amy was unable to hold either of the twins right away; the first was Keegan, when he was 5 days old. He came home with Amy and Steve after 101 days spent in the hospital. Caitlyn stayed at the Elliot an additional two weeks.
For nearly four months, Amy and Steve spent every day at Elliot Hospital with the twins while friends and family cared for the couple's other son, Camden, who was 17 months old.
The parents shared the duties of feeding, bathing, changing diapers and learning how to care for their micro-preemies. Caitlyn would eventually undergo surgery in Boston at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. Amy said Steve's co-workers at the Federal Aviation Administration center in Nashua took part in a program whereby they donated vacation hours to him so he could help with the babies.
Steve and Amy learned about the work the March of Dimes does while at the Elliot. Out of gratitude for the support they received from the organization, they volunteered to take part in the group's March for Babies, which raises funds for research.
"We did our first walk when the twins were almost a year old, and we really liked it," Amy said. "We've signed up every year for the walk since then."
"We decided to apply to be the ambassador family, and we were picked," said Steve.
"The family has been selfless in donating their time and money to the March of Dimes in New Hampshire," said Michelle O'Malley, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the March of Dimes. "It's been a wonderful collaboration, working with them. They are so warm and generous."
The couple plans to attend all four of the organization's March for Babies walks in New Hampshire this year.
"We want to go to events and tell anyone who wants to know to become more involved with March of Dimes," Amy said. "I tell my story and talk about how the March of Dimes has helped us. We know because of the March of Dimes our twins are here today. We want to give back."
The Finnertys attended a March for Babies fundraiser last weekend at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. They also plan to attend marches in Portsmouth on Saturday and at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester next Sunday.
For more information or to donate to an upcoming March for Babies walk, go to www.marchforbabies.org/finnertytwins or www.marchofdimes.com. Updates are also posted on Facebook at March of Dimes N.H.