By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 4:42 PM
Most twins have nine months alone together before they have to make their debut before an expectant public. Jordan and Gabriella Williamowsky had only 61/2 months. The sisters were born one minute apart and 21/2 months early.
If they thought they'd have plenty of time outside the womb to get to know each other, fate had other plans.
"Our census is 46 today," Tara Taylor tells me as we walk through the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's National Medical Center. These 46 patients are some of the most fragile babies you'll ever meet. Some rest in Omni beds - high-tech cribs that warm the infants. Some are under special lights used to treat the build-up of bilirubin - jaundice.
Many are in their mothers' arms. Tiny, tightly wrapped bundles are at the end of tubes that provide oxygen and medicine and wires that monitor heartbeats.
Technically, a neonate is a baby 30 days old or younger. "We don't hew to that here," says Tara, director of neonatal intensive care nursing. "We can have extended time" - time for the babies to get better.
The unit is quiet. No babies cry here.
Light spills through the window of Jordan Williamowsky's room. She's cradled in the arms of her mother, Jackie, and sucking at a bottle. Dad Adam hovers nearby.
When the twins were born Sept. 19 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Jordan was the bigger girl, weighing 2 pounds 12 ounces to Gabriella's 2 pounds 4 ounces. (Jordan had been hogging the placenta.) They spent two weeks fattening up at Holy Cross, then Jordan got sick.
"I'd always heard that the lungs were the things you needed to worry about with preemies," Adam says. "Now most people say the most important thing is their gut."
Jordan had developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a dangerous inflammation of the small intestine that occurs in about three live births per 1,000 and can strike preemies especially hard.
"At 9 p.m. she was okay, no tubes in her, taking a bottle," Adam says. "It went from seeming like a perfectly healthy baby to 'What in the world is going on?' "
A transport team from Children's rushed over to collect Jordan. She was stable but critically ill.
Babies - and premature ones especially - are so small that the techniques used on grown-ups just won't work. There is no laparoscope small enough to thread through an infant's digestive system.
The abdomen that Dr. Tony Sandler cut into was about the size of an orange, the long tubing of Jordan's bowel no wider in diameter than a pencil. As he suspected, much of this tissue was dead. This he carefully removed.
"She'll adapt," Sandler says. "The colon that's left will adapt, and she'll have a fairly normal life."
Today we launch our annual fundraising campaign for Children's Hospital. The acclaimed pediatric center is a lifesaving resource to so many families in our area, including the Williamowskys of Bethesda.
When columnist Bill Gold started the fund drive in the 1940s, he encouraged readers to send in stamps and streetcar tokens. Today, I hope you'll pull out your checkbook or credit card.
The money we raise is used for one thing and one thing only: to pay the hospital bills of families who don't have insurance or whose insurance doesn't cover the entire cost of their treatment. I'm hoping to raise $400,000 by Jan. 7. With your help, we can do it.
Will you please make a tax-deductible contribution? Here's how: Make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.
To donate online using a credit card, go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.
You can make a credit card donation by phone by calling 301-565-8501 and following the prompts.
Gabriella has left the hospital. It will be a bit longer for Jordan, who needs one more operation.
"We will put them in the same crib when they get home," Jackie said.
They'll be together again at last, and who knows what stories they'll tell each other in the secret, unspoken language of twins.