Human connection can be a powerful thing. And as social animals, humans rely on connection in more ways than we’ve ever imagined. Even something as simple as a touch can save lives. But if that sounds crazy. Then you’ve never heard of Kyrie and Brielle Jackson.
Brielle and Kyrie Jackson, twins, were born on October 17, 1995, at a Worcester, Massachusetts hospital. But they popped out of the oven 12 weeks early, and had to remain in the Neonatal ICU for observation. It’s standard procedure to give premature babies lots of attention and medical care. But what these twins did was so incredible, it completely revolutionized the way neonatal care was provided all across America.
The twins weighed 2.2 pounds each. In fact, one doctor described them as “tiny dolls.” But the fact that they were born so soon put their condition as critical. So, to prevent infection, they were kept in separate incubators and monitored around the clock. But while doctors and nurses did everything possible to keep them from dying, nurses told Heidi and Paul Jackson, the twins’ parents, that things could take a turn for the worse at any time.
Paul, the twins’ father recalled that “they told me upfront that things looked pretty good now, but […] in the next 48-72 hours things could turn very quickly.” The fate of the twins was hanging in the balance, and both their parents and the hospital staff watched as they fought to stay alive as long as possible. Days turned into weeks, and they showed signs of improvement.
Kyrie’s condition improved three weeks after coming into this world. Not only was her breathing steadier, but she was gaining weight too. This was great news for her parents who clung to hope during this uncertain future. Unfortunately, Kyrie’s sister, Brielle, was a completely different story.
Brielle’s health wasn’t improving, unlike her sister Kyrie. It was deteriorating. She wasn’t gaining weight and had a tough time breathing. Her heart rate was also increasing, but her face was turning blue from lack of oxygen. Brielle cried every hour of every day, and the hospital staff tried everything to help her. But one nurse went the extra mile in order to increase Brielle’s odds.
Gayle Kasparian worked as a nurse at UMass Memorial Hospital’s ICU. She was also in charge of caring for the Jackson twins and was worried about Brielle’s overall health, which wasn’t improving. But she wasn’t ready to give up on Brielle just yet. So, she decided to perform every preemie care method she knew in order to give Brielle the chance she needed.
Kasparian shared the responsibility of holding Brielle with the child’s father in order to lower the baby’s heart rate and distress. The nurse also kept the baby’s nose clean so nothing could obstruct her air passage, and she used blankets to comfort her. But nothing worked and there weren’t many ideas left. Then Kasparian recalled a neonatal method popular in Europe. But there was a snag. The method had never been done in America.
Kasparian wanted to try and put the twins in the same incubator, which was an unorthodox method that had never been used in the United States. It was also against hospital policy. At the time, the risk of SIDS was too high and the babies were too delicate. But Kasparian knew this was Brielle’s last hope, so she went ahead and took a chance.
Kasparian placed Kyrie, who was in better shape, inside Brielle’s incubator. “They really couldn’t move that much, but there was a little bit of a squirm and the arm kind of just went up,” claimed the twins’ father, Paul. Despite being tiny, the baby wrapped her left arm around her sister, while they lay on their stomachs. Then, something amazing happened.
Brielle’s vitals stabilized almost instantly, especially her breathing. Her prognosis was starting to improve. She stopped crying, and was slowly gaining weight. As the twins stayed together, Brielle’s health got better and better, and all it took, was her sister, Kyrie’s touch. The method, which was a stroke of luck, was recorded for future preemies.
Chris Christo, a local photographer, was at the hospital, and heard the news of how the twins miraculously recovered. So, he took a photo of Kyrie with her arm wrapped around Brielle, and named the photo, “the rescuing hug.” But no one realized that the picture would eventually reach a major iconic status.
The story was first published on Telegram & Gazette, and then other news outlets ran the story too. The photograph then made it on the cover of Reader’s Digest and Life Magazine. So, naturally, the photo became known globally. The family had grown so popular that the Jacksons had to evade the inundating calls from interviewers by changing their number. But the story got bigger because of this.
It was a historic moment in neonatal medicine in the U.S. and it was all thanks to the Jackson twins. Soon, doctors realized how important skin-to-skin contact was to ensure that premature babies survived. So, UMass Memorial bent the rules on twin births, and other hospitals eventually followed the trend. But do you know what it was about Nurse Kasparian that made such a huge impact?
The skin-to-skin contact concept eventually became known as “Kangaroo care.” So, hospitals asked parents to hold their babies to their bare chest, and the infant had to be naked for several hours per day. Studies proved that this method allowed babies to get more sleep and regulate body temperature too, which improved their health. The Jackson twins revolutionized neonatal medicine two decades ago. But are they doing okay now?
Brielle and Kyrie are now two perfectly healthy 22-year-old women. Their special life-saving connection has allowed them to form a bond that’s made them best friends. They even sing the same tunes in their heads and finish each other’s sentences. But even though they were too young to remember their early struggles, there’s a photo still floating around and a story to remind them that they’re two amazing miracles.