Extraordinary stories of strong mothers

A column by Misty Poe, managing editor of The Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — It’s funny how affected you can be by the stories of people you don’t even know.

Last week, I got teary-eyed at least twice while scrolling through the newsfeed of a social media site. Two stories, two women on opposite sides of the world, two mothers who gave so much of their selves so that their children would live.

I have geographical ties to the first story and several of my Facebook friends shared it, as that’s where my own family was stationed during my high school years. A soldier and his wife, stationed at Fort Drum, New York, tried everything they could to conceive. Eventually, Brandon and Jenna Hinnman were expecting twins, little girls. Everything was fine until Jenna’s 30th week of pregnancy when she went into premature labor. By emergency c-section, Kinleigh and Azlynn were born and rushed to the NICU. The Hinnmans only saw the girls as they were quickly carried out by the nursing staff.

But then Jenna couldn’t catch her breath. It was odd. Doctors thought she had somehow contracted pneumonia. But it was far worse than that. As Jenna’s life was in the balance, doctors found that she had an extraordinarily rare form of cancer, the pregnancy-related choriocarcinoma, and her lungs and body were filled with tumors. She was placed in a medically induced coma as doctors administered as many treatments as possible to combat the cancer, infections and internal bleeding.

All the while, Kinleigh and Azlynn were getting stronger day by day, cuddled together in the same incubator as close as they were together in the womb. After several weeks, the twins would go home with Jenna’s mom while Brandon split his time between his daughters and sitting by the bed of his wife. Jenna showed some very positive signs of recovery.

But on Monday, Jenna passed away.

The thing about choriocarcinoma is that while extremely rare, it is a very treatable form of cancer. The survival rate is very, very high for the mothers. But for the unborn, the survival rate is very, very low. In fact, only about 15 percent of infants born to mothers with choriocarcinoma survive.

“The type of cancer she had almost always claims the life of the child, not the parent,” her best friend wrote the day she died on the Facebook page that had kept the community updated on Jenna’s condition since March. “Jenna sacrificed herself to save her two children. She defeated the cancer before it ever hurt the two most beloved people to her in the world.”

I didn’t know Jenna at all, but I know Jenna is in a better place now, watching over her beautiful babies. I know she didn’t make a conscious choice to give her life for her girls, but I hope her daughters grow up knowing that if Jenna was given that choice to make, she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The second story is one of the strength of a mother’s love and her touch. It’s not a recent one — it happened in 2010 — but was shared by friends several times last week probably because of the proximity to Mother’s Day. Kate and David Ogg were also expecting twins, but when the Sydney, Australia, mother went into labor at only 27 weeks, one of her babies was pronounced dead after doctors tried to resuscitate him for 20 minutes. Baby Emily was rushed to the NICU while their son, Jamie, was laid on Kate’s chest so the couple could say their final goodbyes.

“I wanted to meet him and to hold him and for him to know us,” Kate said. “If he was on his way out of the world, we wanted for him to know who his parents were and to know that we loved him before he died.”

After five minutes, Jamie began to gasp and jerk. The nurses said it was nothing more than reflexes as the body died. Still, Kate held him, skin to skin, and stroked his back and told him how Emily was going to be OK and how much she loved him.

Then Jamie opened his eyes…

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