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Sparks family at their home in Maryville, Illinois

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Multiple Reasons for Hope and Healing

Just moments after Carol Sparks went into labor on a chilly Valentine's Day in 2008 she learned that she was expecting twins instead of one baby. Only 18 weeks along, Carol had experienced no complications with her pregancy up until that day. Both infants, Cale and Nathan, died less than 20 minutes after their birth. 

"There was nothing that could be done to stop the labor," Carol recalls. "I had a very good doctor, but her protocol was—as with many doctors—to not do an ultrasound early on for every pregnancy. There was no way to suspect that I was carrying twins."

Shortly after their loss, Carol and her husband Jon, founded Interwoven Souls Coalition, a not-for-profit organization that raises money for medical research associated with complications that arise from multiple births.

Since 2008, the coalition has hosted a fundraiser and silent auction on Valentine’s Day weekend that has netted a total of $20,000, which is being applied toward the research efforts of University of Chicago Medical Center Professor Mahmoud Ismail, MD. Ismail, co-director of the University’s Perinatal Network and a nationally recognized expert in high-risk pregnancies, is embarking on a three-year observational study of mothers expecting monochorionic or “mo-mo” twins—twins who develop in the same amniotic sac. The situation causes risk to the babies due to cord entanglement.

For the study, mothers will be hospitalized starting at the 28th week of their pregnancy and placed on a continuous electronic fetal monitoring system until they give birth. The objective is to diagnose any complications early on and to intervene when needed to improve the outcome.

“Monochorionic pregnancies present many potential complications so intense monitoring is necessary,” Ismail says. “Our number one priority is getting the mother to 34 weeks, which involves the mother doing everything she can to protect her babies.”

A father of six, including a set of triplets, Ismail says on average he sees only three patients a year with this type of rare pregnancy. Early intervention, he adds, is the key to a successful outcome.

Knowing that more parents of multiples will have an opportunity to bring their children home due to Ismail’s research makes Carol and Jon’s efforts more meaningful and keeps their twin boys at the forefront of their mission. “Our twins are our inspiration,” says Carol. “When we learned of Dr. Ismail’s project, we were thrilled and we’ve really been impressed with the Medical Center. Researchers there are on the cutting edge and are willing to look into things that we want to see addressed.”

A business attorney in Maryville, IL, Carol didn’t anticipate any risks with her pregnancy since she previously gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Hannah, just two years prior to her twins’ birth. Coincidentally, Hannah was also born on February 14.

“Valentine’s Day is bittersweet for our family,” Carol says. “Every year we get to celebrate our children, but we’re also reminded of the fact that we don’t have Cale and Nathan here with us.” Doctors speculated that complications with the Sparks’ twins, who were fraternal, were due to hormonal issues.

But with loss also comes healing, as the Sparks recently welcomed another healthy baby girl, Jaden, into their lives.

Although they will never have the opportunity to attend soccer games or Boy Scout meetings with their twins, the two will always be a part of their journey. Each day, the family draws strength from one another, their faith, and little things like a song by musician Jack Johnson titled “With My Own Two Hands.”

“In the lyrics, it says ‘I can change the world with my own two hands, make it a better place, with my own two hands,’” says Carol. “It dawned on us that our sons weren’t going to be able to change the world with their hands, so we decided that they could do it with ours through the coalition. We hope that this will be their footprint in the world.”

For more information about obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, please contact Kate Azizi at 773.834.7577.

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