Breathing through the tubes of a hospital incubator, miracle newborns Archie and Harley Garthwaite somehow mustered the strength from their tiny, fragile bodies to fight for their lives.
Because despite being born at only 22 and a half weeks, the brave brothers have battled overwhelming odds to survive as Britain’s most premature twins.
Archie weighed just 1lb 4oz and his limbs were so tiny that his mum’s engagement ring easily slipped over his leg.
And despite doctors telling their devastated parents to prepare for the worst, the babies battled through intensive care and two major operations each.
Incredibly, to the delight of mum Hayley Kennedy and dad Billy Garthwaite, Archie is now home and Harley, who weighed 1lb 6oz at birth, is not far behind.
“I am the proudest mum in the world,” beams Hayley, cuddling Archie, who was once so small he could fit in the palm of her hand. “They are our little miracles.
“We were told to prepare for the worst because they were so premature. We really thought we’d lose them.
“We knew it was going to be a battle – but we never gave up hope. And now I can’t believe they’re okay.”
Hairdresser Hayley, 20, and Billy, a joiner, discovered they were expecting twins in January, just weeks after getting engaged.
The loved-up pair had a whirlwind romance after meeting on Facebook a couple of months before.
The pregnancy was going well until 21 weeks when the waters to Archie’s amniotic sac broke at the end of May – months before the due date of October 4.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” remembers Hayley.
“I thought it might be my waters breaking but at the same time I knew it was too early.”
She was rushed into the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton where doctors desperately tried to prevent a premature labour.
But three weeks later Hayley felt pains in her stomach and went to the toilet – where she realised she was giving birth to Archie.
She adds: “I could see his head coming out. I knew I’d better get him out quickly otherwise he wouldn’t survive. So I just pushed.”
Her labour was over in just 15 minutes and Archie was rushed to neo-natal intensive care in an incubator and put on a ventilator.
Two and a half hours later, Harley came into the world and took his place alongside his older brother.
Hayley, who was in tears at not being able to hold her babies, recalls: “They were so tiny I didn’t think they had a chance.
“They were transparent, we could see through them. It was awful.”
Hayley and Billy kept a bedside vigil beside their babies, believing that night might be their last.
And the situation got worse after three weeks when tests revealed both boys had holes in their hearts and needed dangerous open-heart surgery.
Hayley says: “Doctors told us to be prepared to lose them as the chances of even one of them surviving were small.”
Thankfully, the three-hour operation at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary was a success. But then, at six-weeks-old, the babies needed more surgery to clear a blockage in their bowels. Again, they pulled through.
Hayley adds: “It was the scariest time of our lives. To get one home and the other almost ready to come out is just mind-blowing.
“Staff told me they were the youngest to survive being 22 and a half weeks.”
Mia and Scarlett Lavelle-Redrup were the previous most premature twins born in Britain, at 24 weeks.
They celebrated their second birthday last month with proud parents Stephanie and Wayne, both 24. Consultant Child Specialist Dr Chidambara Harikumar, who helped deliver Archie and Harley, says it was “astonishing” they survived as 90% of babies born at 23 weeks will not live.
wHe adds: “This is unique, a complete rarity. Twenty-three weeks is as low as it gets – only one out of 10 babies born at that stage normally survives.”
Archie now weighs 5lbs while Harley, who is expected to be discharged soon, weighs in at 4lb 8oz.
Hayley adds: “Both our boys are healthy. I look at them and still can’t believe it.”