"Everything was normal, very normal," says Adaora Okoye when she talks about her pregnancy with her twins, Wil and Winnie.
And then it wasn't.
The Georgetown nurse went to her obstetrician for a normal visit at 37 weeks and 1 day. She was told she was already 5 or 6 centimeters, she says.
It was baby time.
Okoye was admitted to St. David's Georgetown Hospital that day. She got to 9 centimeters and was moved to the operating room for her and the babies' safety because she was having twins.
Winnie already was head-down, and though Wil was head-up, the hope was that once Winnie was born, he would flip and get into birthing position. After two hours of pushing, Winnie was stuck and not coming out. Okoye would need a cesarean section.
Something changed. Okoye's head began to throb like a bad headache. She had a sharp pain in her chest. "My head, my heart," she remembers screaming over and over again. "I was shouting, 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.'"
Her heart rate was at more than 120 beats per minute. She was dizzy.
The doctors knocked her out with general anesthesia and got the babies out by C-section quickly.
They were fine. Okoye was not.
She had had an amniotic fluid embolism — when amniotic fluid enters the mother's blood. It can cause organ failure, memory loss, heart damage and death.
When Okoye woke up three days later, she didn't know what had happened. "I didn't remember being pregnant," she says.
There were pictures of her babies hanging around her bed, and she was told they were her babies and that she had had an embolism.
Then she was told some of the things that happened while she was hooked up to machines and unconscious: A respiratory therapist and a nurse brought her babies to her and rested them on her chest. She would respond to her babies and try to hold them and open her eyes.
"I'm here for the babies," she says.
Husband Joshua Okoye says he "prayed and decided to leave God to it" once the doctor had to do the C-section and he was told to leave the room. Then he heard babies cry after about 10 minutes. "It felt like a long time," he says. He didn't know what was happening, but then the babies were brought out to him and he was told his wife was moved to the ICU.
That night and the next day, he was moving between the nursery where his babies were and the ICU where his wife was.
The morning after the C-section, Michelle Decker, a nurse and the director of women's services at St. David's Georgetown, heard about Okoye. "We had heard before lunch that she may not make it," Decker says. "She was touch and go in the ICU."
Nurse manager Sheri Sullivan mentioned that she had read something about skin-to-skin contact with mother and baby being able to help the mother, but Sullivan was busy with other patients.
"I was so distraught," Decker says. She remembers telling the charge nurse, "We've got to make this happen. We've got to try."
Decker found Joshua Okoye in the nursery with the twins and got his permission to take the babies to see their mom. Then she got the permission of all the doctors and nurses for the babies and all the doctors and nurses for their mom.
Respiratory therapist Tiffany Davila helped Decker transport the twins, which meant bringing everything with them that the babies would need if they went into distress. "It took a little bit to coordinate," Decker says, but about 45 minutes later they had moved the babies to Okoye.
They had to work around all the tubes and machinery going into their mom, too. "She was so fragile," Decker says. "Everything she was attached to was so fragile and important."
Even Decker says she was overwhelmed by how many things were running Okoye's system. "This is major, major, serious."
Once the babies were resting on Okoye's bare chest, Decker told her that she wanted her to hold them. "I wanted her to know how well her babies were doing."
"The first time, Mom barely even moved when we talked with her," Decker says. "Her eyes may have moved a tiny bit, her hands."
Joshua Okoye came into the room and took some pictures of the babies on his wife's chest. Decker and Davila found places to put the pictures around the room. "I was afraid that was the only pictures they would have as a family," Decker says.
They kept talking to Okoye about her babies. And then, to not overwhelm either the babies or Okoye, they returned the babies back to the nursery. That was about 1 p.m. At 4 p.m., they decided to try it again.
"This time when we brought them, her eyes tried to open," Decker says. "She took her hands and moved them around her babies. She knew this time."
Decker remembers telling Okoye, "Your babies are here."
Decker left word for the night shift to try it again and went home. When she checked in at noon the next day to see how Okoye was doing, she was told Okoye was breathing on her own and talking. "I started crying," Decker says.
And while they can't be sure that the skin-to-skin contact that Okoye and her babies shared was the thing that pulled her through, Decker says, "Boy, I would say it was pretty powerful."
Since May 11, when the Okoye twins were born, St. David's Georgetown has done skin-to-skin contact between another mom in the ICU and her baby. That mom also lived.
"It certainly makes us think outside the box," Decker says.
Okoye remembers being alert and seeing the babies for the first time.
"When I saw them, I cried," she says. She, of course, wishes she remembered those first three days of their life. "It is just so hard to think about ... looking at them and seeing them, it's a miracle that happened."
Okoye, who is now 28, does not have any lasting effects of the embolism. Her heart, which was enlarged at the time, is back to a normal size.
Today, the babies are healthy 5-month-olds who are trying to sit up. "They are different people all the time," she says. "That's is the best part of it. He's very energetic. She's more reserved."
"It's such a joy seeing them, having them around," she says. "When you wake up and look at them, there's this joy. It's hard to articulate how I feel."