By Dave Andrusko
When doctors give expectant parents terrible news, it takes great courage not to give in to counsel to abort. Such news—that “one of her babies had a rare brain condition and an abnormality with her esophagus”– was given to Marie Stockdale who was carrying twin girls.
“After receiving the news of one of the twins’ condition, they [Marie and her partner Paul Kipling] chose to turn down the abortion and, when the twins were born in May 2022, Ava underwent emergency surgery to correct her esophagus” reported Rikki Loftus and Naomi Corrigan.
“Ava and sister Mila are now eight-and-a-half months old. Despite a tumultuous first few weeks, feeding through a tube and continued hospital treatment every two months, Ava has come on leaps and bounds.
“Her mum who also has two children from a previous relationship, Ashton, 10, and Camden, six, said: ‘Doctors are monitoring her brain condition but so far, it seems to be mild. Ava went through a lot in the first few weeks of her life so to see her now, getting stronger each day, is wonderful.”
But that doesn’t begin to explain all that the family went through. When she had her 20-week scan doctors found that Ava had a lot more amniotic fluid surrounding her body than did her sister Mila.
As Loftus and Corrigan explain
They drained some of the fluid while the girls were still in the womb, but it continued to build back up. This confirmed their diagnosis that Ava had esophageal atresia and tracheo-esophageal fistula as she was not swallowing the fluid.
These conditions cause an abnormality where the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, is not attached correctly, ending in a pouch further up her body. Ava was also diagnosed with a brain condition called rhombencephalosynapsis, which is a rare abnormality of the cerebellum, has varying degrees of severity and can cause other disorders such as cerebral palsy.
“Because the condition is so rare, doctors had no idea how severely it would affect her, and I was offered a termination,” Marie said. “It was never an option though, I had to give her a chance to fight.”
Marie underwent an emergency caesarean. Doctors then determined that waiting was no option: it was best for Ava to have surgery that same day. “Surgeons closed the gap between Ava’s esophagus and windpipe before sewing together the upper and lower parts of the esophagus.”
When Ava was five weeks old, she underwent her second major surgery, to lift her aorta and fix it to the sternum so she could breathe correctly. “Mila and I had been discharged but thanks to the support of The Sick Children’s Trust, we were able to stay with Paul at Crawford House, just next door to where Ava was,” said Marie.
Finally, after 8 weeks, Ava was strong enough to go home.
Loftus and Corrigan conclude their story on an optimistic note
Ava is currently being tube fed as she has no sucking reflex and has regular physiotherapy to help her with head control and general movement, but her surgeons are pleased with her progress. “They’re both little characters, Mila is very chilled out and patient and Ava is really happy and smiley,” said her mum.