Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland



The day my heart broke

Neil Greenlees reports
Lost twin boys to be remembered at balloon launch

Karen McCann A LOCAL couple whose identical twin boys died in their mother's womb earlier this year will release a balloon in memory of their stillborn sons at a ceremony in the Stormont Estate on Sunday (October 14).

The emotional event, due to be attended by scores of parents who have suffered similar devastating losses, has been organised by the web based organisation 'ourforeverbahies'.

It will take place just seven months after Karen McCann and Gavin Taggart from Old Colin received the heartbreaking news their unborn sons Daire and Odhran had succumbed to the condition 'identical twin syndrome' which involves an imbalanced flow of blood from one twin to the other. It is believed to affect as many as one in 1,000 pregnancies.

The couple say the tragedy, which also proved devastating for their eight year old son Jamie, occurred despite them being told by the RVH at the 15 week stage of the pregnancy the babies were not identical.

This was good news as identical twin girls born to Karen's sister had passed away shortly after birth.

However, the couple's relief proved to be short lived. As the pregnancy progressed Karen began to suffer severe discomfort and pain. She had to wear a support belt and use crutches. At times she could not walk.

She says she telephoned the hospital on several occasions explaining how she felt and stating she was pregnant with nonidentical twins but was told she would have to wait between four and six hours to be seen and the best thing to do was to take two paracetamol tablets and go to bed. The situation changed dramatically when she attended the hospital for her 21 week antenatal check and a doctor asked her if she was sure her dates were right as she was 'so big'.

Karen was scanned sitting up as she could not lie down and was immediately admitted because the doctor saw straight away there was too much fluid round one of the babies. The next morning a consultant told her both babies were very ill. Karen couldn't believe what was happening: "My head swam - what was she talking about? - I'd just seen them on a scan the day before and they were moving away. To me they looked perfect," she said. But the nightmare continued. Another scan confirmed Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome and the couple were told an operation was necessary which could only be performed at St. George's Hospital in Tooting.

By this stage Karen was in so much pain she could barely walk up the steps to the aircraft. Even though they were in business class she was so big she could not pull down her seat tray.

A wheelchair was provided at Heathrow but they had to make their own way through the terminal to the taxi rank. "We had no idea where we were going and all the while I kept thinking my babies were at risk from the trauma of flying," Karen said. "We finally arrived at St. Georges at 10.30pm and by this stage I was tired, sore, frightened, anxious, crying lots and needed help."

Next day a scan confirmed the smaller twin was very ill. Surgery took place with Karen being given what she referred to as 'a happy drug which put her into an almost dream state.

While the operation was proceeding Karen and Gavin were able to see their babies on a TV screen. "We saw little bits of their bodies, faces, hands and feet as the light from the camera searched for the right place to go," she said. "It was a surreal experience and something I will never erase from my mind."

Three litres of fluid were removed and they returned the next morning for another scan. Karen couldn't look at the screen but she knew when she saw a heartbroken Gavin break down and cry the smaller twin had not survived.

The other baby required a blood transfusion which was declared a success.

The journey back to Poleglass proved traumatic. Once again the couple faced the long taxi ride from Tooting to Heathrow and Gavin had to push Karen in a wheelchair from the terminal entrance to the door of the aircraft.

Karen, who was in severe pain, was acutely aware of the dangers of her waters breaking during the flight.

The couple arrived home late in the evening and next morning when Karen wakened she knew instinctively her other baby had also died. They called their GP who sent her to the RVH.

It took three scans but eventually doctors were able to confirm both twins had passed away. They then had to face the trauma of Karen being induced and giving birth naturally.

Odhran Kevin, the smaller of the twins, was born first closely followed by his bigger brother Daire John.

"The boys stayed with us until the next morning in a little Moses basket and their aunts and uncles and grandparents came in and said hello and goodbye to their nephews and grandsons. On Monday March 5 we buried our beautiful sons with my grandparents, uncle and little cousin. That was the day my heart broke into pieces," Karen said.

Karen and Gavin have one big question which they feel must be answered: Why was it necessary for them to undertake the gruelling journey to London when, they believe, the same surgery was available just two hours drive from their home? They have discovered an identical procedure was carried out in Dublin on twins at 22 weeks in January. Both survived. The couple now wonder if a less traumatic journey might have given more chance of a better outcome.

"There are so many questions that will never be answered. The only one Gavin and I can answer is that we know Daire didn't want Odhran being on his own and that's why he went with him" Karen wrote on her website.

Karen said had proved a major source of support since. "Initially, I really had no support at all. I just sat on my very dark days looking for help," she continued. "But they reached out the hand of friendship and took me under their wing. I can remember the first time they invited me to one of their coffee mornings when I realised they were thinking the same things as me. It made me realise I was not the only one. Someone down the street could be in the same situation." was set up by Jen Kearney and Eleanor Ellerslie. They describe it as a community of friends who have come together to support each other through the tough times and laugh with each other when the good times come.

Ulster Star