The weakest of cries from the tiniest of tots signaled a medical miracle as premature twins Harley and Harry Crane entered the world.
The mites, weighing just 500 grams, or 1.1lbs, arrived when mum Jade was 22 weeks and five days pregnant.
Barely 15cm (6ins) long – the length of a king-size Mars Bar – doctors gave them zero chance of survival as Jade went into premature labor.
They told the desperate mum-to-be she was having a miscarriage.
Then came that wail – “like a tiny kitten”, says Jade.
In a flash, medics burst into action to save what are believed to be the most premature twins to be born and survive in Britain.
They were delivered more than week before a fetus is considered medically viable. And their gentle sobs were music to the ears of Jade and her husband Steve, who had spent 11 years and £50,000 trying to become parents.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Mirror, Jade, 39, says: “When Harley let out the smallest of cries the room went mad and they suddenly offered life-saving treatment.
“It was the same with Harry, who was inside me still for a full hour unmonitored. The babies had been given a zero percent chance of survival.
“It felt amazing to hear them cry, though I was still scared.”
But the tough siblings weren’t going anywhere and have gone from strength to strength – amazing doctors at the Queen’s Medical Center in Nottingham.
Early pictures show just how tiny the babies were – their arms barely the size of their dad’s finger.
“At birth they were smaller than an elf on the shelf,” Jade explains. “There wasn’t a nappy small enough. The smallest clothes are for babies up to 1.5kg – well mine were 500g.”
At birth their handspan was 3cm. It is now 5cm and they have doubled in length to 30cm.
NHS worker Jade beams: “I’m so proud of my babies – they’re little fighters. For them to get through everything and still be there just smiling away is incredible. If they can do that, they can do anything.”
Now 16 weeks, Harry and sister Harley could be discharged by their due date on February 24.
In their quest to be parents, Jade and Steve, 52, endured 11 years of treatments – including eight cycles of IVF and several implantations of frozen embryos.
They tried to conceive naturally for three years and Jade suffered an ectopic pregnancy before they began IVF in 2010. The couple took out loans and worked hard to pay for £50,000-worth of treatment – which “nearly bankrupted us”.
By late 2014, Jade had another three miscarriages after IVF and was told she had an overactive immune system causing her body to reject pregnancy.
But Jade and Steve, who works in sales, refused to give up hope. “We just wanted a family so bad and I’d had frozen embryos so we had a need to use them,” Jade says.
The couple, who live in Derbyshire, made contact with another fertility clinic – in London’s Harley Street and reputedly one of the best in the world. Jade was prescribed medication to combat immune system problems.
Then, last May – IVF cycle number eight – the couple had two embryos transferred. Both worked and they were told they were expecting boy and girl twins.
“I couldn’t let myself believe it,” Jade recalls. “I was so afraid of a miscarriage or something going wrong. I literally didn’t do anything during the pregnancy as a result.
“The few bits of clothes that I did buy made me think that I better keep the tags on just in case – you just don’t want to let yourself believe.”
On October 26 Jade went to get checked out after leaking fluid. An examination revealed she was experiencing membrane ruptures that happen before the onset of labour.
Doctors are not required to medically intervene with babies born prior to 24 weeks as they are not considered to be viable.
But Jade had chosen Queen’s as it has a more extensive neonatal intensive care unit than her local centre.
And, as a teaching hospital, staff intervene with babies born from 23 weeks to learn about premature births.
At the time of going into labour, Jade was 30 hours away from the 23-week mark and was told she was likely to lose her precious twins. “It was so scary,” she shudders.
“The doctor kept saying it was a miscarriage but I said it couldn’t be because I could feel the babies moving. I knew they were OK but was being told they wouldn’t survive at this stage of gestation.
Labor happened really quickly. I was denied pain medication and monitoring during labor as I wasn’t viable, which was awful.”
Doctors chose to intervene after her babies showed signs of life when born.
Jade adds: “I remember saying that I couldn’t hear Harley cry and one of the nurses said I wouldn’t because she was far too early.
“But then I heard this cry, like a tiny kitten. Harry did the same when he was born an hour later, still in his sack of him.
In Japan, it is seen as being lucky if you have a baby born in their sac, so I held on to that luck!” Harley and Harry were incubated and whisked to the NICU – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – where they remained on ventilators as doctors worked hard to save them.
Two hours later, Jade was wheeled to the unit to meet her miracle twins.
“I was in disbelief,” she says. “It was amazing. But seeing them so tiny and fragile in the NICU was scary with the doctor’s predictions in my head.”
Desperate for hope, Jade and Steve searched out a mother of American twins born at 22 weeks, who are now four. They spoke via Instagram and Jade says: “She guided me through the first few days of being in the unit and what to ask for.”
But things took a bleak turn at a week old when the twins were diagnosed with gastrointestinal illness necrotizing enterocolitis. It can be fatal and the parents were told to prepare to say goodbye.
It was a hellish time. Jade says: “We were told to get the family in and have a christening.
“I kept referring to the christening as ‘the funeral’. It was just awful.”
But the little fighters pulled through.
Previously, the UK’s most premature twins to survive were Brighton tots Jenson and Reuben Powell, born at 22 weeks and six days, in 2018.
Jade got to hold her twins for the first time when they were four weeks.
“It felt amazing to finally feel them moving again,” she smiles. The twins have had more health problems as a result of their premature birth, including chronic lung disease and sepsis, and have undergone six surgeries between them.
But the siblings – who now weigh 2.4kg, or 5.3lbs – have defied the odds and are thriving in the NICU, where they have now spent 111 days.
Jade goes on: “We are working towards the twins coming home on my due date. Usually doctors would tell us what they did with other babies at the same age, but they don’t have any 22 weeks to base it on because it just doesn’t happen.
I’m really lucky that I went to Queen’s instead of my local hospital. If I’d gone there, I wouldn’t have come home with any babies, and it’s where the ambulance would have taken me because of the catchment – it’s a postcode lottery.”
Matron Cheryl Griffiths and consultant Chantelle Tomlinson told the Mirror: “We are delighted to have been able to provide neonatal intensive care for Harley and Harry and to support them and their parents, Jade and Steve, in their journey.”
Once discharged, the twins are likely to require oxygen at home and may suffer long-term issues.
But Jade adds: “They’ll go down in medical history. I’m sure they’ll have a ward named after them because everyone is just amazed by them!”