Hall County March for Babies
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: The Longstreet Clinic, 725 Jesse Jewell Parkway, Gainesville
How much: Free to participate, $100 donation buys a t-shirt
Registration: Begins at 9 a.m. Saturday
Sheri Miller was en route to the emergency room on Dec. 30, 2014, when she was told the twin sons she was carrying would not survive.
“I was told there was a 98 percent chance they wouldn’t make it, and if they did, they would be on ventilators or in wheelchairs the rest of their lives,” Miller said. “But I said, ‘I don’t want to write them off before they’re even here. Let’s just give them a chance.’”
Twin brothers Zane and Jarrett Buffington were in the womb for less than 24 weeks. Zane was born weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces, and Jarrett one ounce more.
The twins are this year’s ambassadors for the March of Dimes Hall County. The annual March for Babies is 10 a.m. Saturday at The Longstreet Clinic on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville.
Today, Zane and Jarrett are happy, healthy and learning to walk. Their mother said “they’re getting into everything.”
“They were born at 23 weeks and five days gestation,” Miller said. “Which is almost unheard of. It’s almost unheard of for one baby to make it that early, but for two? It’s a complete miracle — it’s two miracles.”
Miller said her youngest sons each had their own tough battles during their first few months of life.
Within two weeks, Zane was diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis — the most common and serious intestinal disease among children born prematurely — and moved from Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston Hospital.
“Necrotizing enterocolitis is when their bowels go necrotic and they have to cut out part of the intestines,” Miller said. “He was down to 1 pound, 3 ounces and he had to have major surgery.”
He had three surgeries: an ileostomy for the necrotizing enterocolitis, a surgery to close a heart valve that’s common in premature births, and finally an operation to repair the intestines after the ileostomy.
Meanwhile, Zane’s twin brother Jarrett was at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. At 2 weeks, when Zane received his diagnosis, Jarrett was battling a severe case of pneumonia.
“He was on a lot of different breathing apparatuses,” Miller said. “CPAP and ventilators, oscillators. All of it.”
For months, Miller drove back and forth between Gainesville and Atlanta every single day to spend hours with her sons.
The single mother would wake up at home in Gainesville, drive her then-15-year-old son Canaan to school, drive to the medical center to visit Jarrett, then drive to Atlanta to see Zane.
She had a bedroom at the Ronald McDonald House in Atlanta, where she would spend the night.
“Then I would basically do it all backward the next day,” she said. “I was at home every other night, but I saw all three kids every day for months.”
The back-and-forth was crucial, because doctors wanted her to do “kangaroo care” with both babies, she said.
“It’s skin-to-skin contact,” she said. “It’s really healthy for them. So they get them out with all their little tubes and wires and they want you to put the baby down your shirt, so they are actually against your skin.”
But each “holding” session had to be at least four hours, Miller said. Eventually, all the back-and-forth became too much, and she spent the last few weeks in hospital visiting one twin each day.
“It was a crazy experience,” she said.
Jarrett stayed at Northeast Georgia Medical center from Dec. 30, 2014, until April 23, 2015, the twins’ original due date. Zane was released to go home May 13 of last year.
It was the first time the twins had met out of the womb.
Today, Zane and Jarrett are “perfect and beautiful,” their mother said.
She and her family joined the March of Dimes as this year’s ambassador family for the march Saturday. The date of the march is poignant for her, she said.
“The March is Saturday, on April 23, which was their due date,” she said. “And it was the day I got to bring Jarrett home, so it’s really special.”
Lori Allen, division director of Northeast Georgia March of Dimes, said this year’s theme is “A Fighting Chance for Every Baby — knock out prematurity.”
Allen said one in every 10 babies is born premature, which amounts to “a lot of babies in Georgia.”
Participation in the march is free, and $100 donations can buy a T-shirt, Allen said.
Miller said she was willing and eager to join this year’s march because of her boys.
“It was such a humbling experience, the whole thing from beginning to end,” she said. “I was so thankful they did so well and they made it, because nobody thought they would. There are so many babies out there that the March of Dimes helps keep alive. My babies never would have made it without their research.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the twins' last name.