Jonathan and Chinwe Onyenekwe say their twins are the epitome of strength and perseverance, and it’s easy to see why. In the two short years since their birth, they have fought and won major health battles.
Chinwe and her husband were busy preparing for their twin’s arrival in 2012. As first time parents, they were a little nervous but very excited to welcome not one but two new babies and start their family in Raleigh. Everything was going according to plan, until Chinwe went into labor early.
“I was so scared. Everything had been normal with my pregnancy until that point, but then all of a sudden everything was up in the air. I didn’t know if my babies would be okay; I didn’t know what the doctors would say. All we could do was hope.”
Izuchukwu Samuel and Ozioma Juliet Onyenekwe were born 11 weeks early in Raleigh. Izuchukwu was 3 pounds, 10 ounces, and Ozioma weighed just 1 pound, 2 ounces at birth. She was much smaller than her brother, and very small for her gestational age. Doctors paid special attention to Ozioma, and soon they realized that she had other complications. Quickly after birth she was diagnosed with esophageal atresia and a tracheoesophageal fistula, birth defects that affect the trachea and esophagus, in which the two areas are improperly connected and the esophagus does not attached to the stomach.
Doctors knew that Ozioma would require multiple surgeries to repair the birth defects, but first she would have to grow strong enough to survive the procedure.
While Chinwe was still recuperating in the hospital, the twins were transported to the N.C. Children’s Hospital to receive the care they needed in the Newborn Critical Care Unit.
“It was a big shock and a day of tears. We were wondering if Ozioma would survive; she was so fragile and had so much going against her, from lung problems to high blood pressure,” said Chinwe.
As soon as Chinwe was discharged from the hospital, the family reunited at UNC. Facing a 45-minute drive back and forth from Raleigh, Jonathan and Chinwe couldn’t bear to leave their babies’ sides. They had heard about the Ronald McDonald House from Jonathan’s cousin, and the nurses confirmed it was an option and sent in a referral.
“The House was so cozy and nice; it really felt like a home for us. I cannot stress how close I hold the House to my heart; it was my only sanity during those tough times. It’s not just a place to stay, it saved our family.” said Chinwe.
The Onyenekwe family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill for five months while they waited for Izuchukwu and Ozioma to grow and gain their strength. Ozioma required surgery for her birth defects and needed to stay in the NCCC for much longer than her brother, who was discharged early and stayed in the House with his parents while they waited for Ozioma.
After several months of living with a feeding tube, Ozioma was ready for surgery. Doctors spent several hours in the operating room with the tiny baby, and it was a resounding success.
“Every day is better than the last, it is amazing to watch them grow up. It was so tough at the beginning; I can’t count how many nights I went to bed in tears, but we got through it. Our family is so blessed to make it through this, and to have had the amazing support from the Ronald McDonald House during our dark time,” said Chinwe.
Looking at the family today, you would be hard pressed to guess that the energetic two-year-olds faced such challenges. Jonathan says, “The progress that I see with my children inspires me everyday. They have grown in leaps and bounds and taught me patience like no other lesson I have ever learned!”