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Post kicks off annual fundraising effort for Children's National Medical Center

Adam and Jackie Williamowsky of Bethesda, with their daughter Jordan in the neonatal intensive care unit on Children's Hospital.
Adam and Jackie Williamowsky of Bethesda, with their daughter Jordan in the neonatal intensive care unit on Children's Hospital. (John Kelly/thewashington Post)

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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.

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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?' "

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