'I'm so proud of them' - Miracle twins born four months early defy the odds to start school
A mother who gave birth to identical twins after just 24 weeks never thought she'd be sending her daughters to a mainstream school, but Pippa and Sophia Devane bravely battled against the odds.
The twin sisters, aged 5, will start their first day of primary school at St Joseph's in Mountmellick, Co Laois on Friday.
For their mother, Debbie Devane, this is another major milestone she is extremely grateful for.
"When we were in hospital, even when the doctor used to mention the word home, you couldn’t imagine that it would ever happen. But before we knew it, there was the christening, their first birthday, their first day at playschool...it is such an achievement for them to be starting a mainstream school, and I'm so proud," she said.
Doctors told Debbie she would require surgery for Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome when she was at 21 weeks. Twin to Twin occurs when identical twins share a placenta and one receives more blood supply than the other.
Just three weeks later, she had an emergency C-section. Sophia was born first, followed quickly by Pippa, who weighed only 500g.
"She was curled up like a little kitten," Debbie said.
From heart failure to being placed on a life support machine, the first few days after their birth were touch and go, which is why this week will be all the more emotional for Debbie and her husband Gary.
"It’s a miracle that we're sending them to school, it all feels a bit surreal. I’ve three older boys in school and I was worrying that the girls were never going to get there, or be able to go to a mainstream school, now I'm worrying about them blending in," she said.
As a result of their complicated birth, Sophia is missing four fingers and Pippa is deaf, but Debbie said that doesn't stop them living a normal life.
"Pippa has a cochlear implant, which helps a lot, and the two of them are very positive little girls. Sophia is starting to be a bit more conscious of her hand the older she gets, and I worry about her being singled out, but I think most parents have that fear."
The Laois woman praised the staff at St Joseph's for all the support they have provided the family in the weeks leading up to the their big day. She was especially thankful to Pippa's visiting teacher Claire Sheehan, who helped "organise everything".
"We’ve been very lucky with the school, they’ve been fantastic. They have all the equipment in place to help Pippa hear better and it's been a really easy transition.
"They've all been on board and we really feel like the help is there. The teachers are telling us not to be worrying."
Pippa and Sophia, on the other hand, aren't worried at all.
"They're so excited, they can't to get started," Debbie said.
"I’m a bit nervous about them starting school as they’ll probably pick up more coughs and colds, but every day, they're getting stronger and stronger."