Michelle Aslin and Kayley Clarke were warned that their children may not survive after they were both diagnosed with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, but they have since gone on to thrive.
Close cousins Michelle Aslin and Kayley Clarke were delighted to be pregnant at the same time.
But joy turned to despair when doctors warned neither baby was likely to survive as each would be born with just half a heart.
Yet both tots have now come through two open-heart ops and this week Reggie, five, and Honey Rose, four, are due to start school in Grimsby, Lincs.
Reggie’s mum Michelle said: “It’s an emotional milestone. We were told if they survived they wouldn’t be able to walk, talk, or go to mainstream school and they would be exhausted all the time.
“But we knew we had to give them a fighting chance. They’ve gone from strength to strength.”
At her 20-week scan, Michelle was given the devastating news that Reggie, like one in 5,000 babies, would have hypoplastic left-heart syndrome.
HLHS impedes the heart from developing properly and pumping blood around the body. To give sufferers a chance of reaching adulthood, they need operations to re-route arteries.
Reggie was delivered by caesarean on September 1, 2016, and Michelle did not see him for eight hours. All she could do was look at photos her family had taken.
She said: “When I finally got to hold him, I sobbed buckets.”
Reggie had his first op at four days old. Michelle said: “The night before the nurse let me give him a bath and dress him in a babygro, to make sure I’d done that if he didn’t survive.”
His cousin Honey Rose was even more seriously ill when she was born on December 19, 2016, with HLHS.
Mum Kayley said: “When Honey Rose was born, the doctor said everything looked even worse than expected, so she wouldn’t make it through surgery and we’d only have about 24 hours with her. I was just numb.”
The heartbroken family took Honey Rose to a nearby hospice and as she clung to life they decorated her room ready for Christmas.
But she did not deteriorate as feared and doctors agreed to take her back to hospital on Christmas Eve. Tests revealed she was strong enough to attempt surgery.
Kayley said: “They didn’t know how, but they said she had found some kind of balance. We knew then she was a fighter.
“We spent Christmas Day cuddling her, it was quiet but lovely. She had surgery on Boxing Day and was in theatre for 11 hours. It was excruciating but we had nothing to lose.”
The surgery seemed to have gone well but that night Honey Rose went back to intensive care.
Kayley said: “There were doctors and nurses all around her bed. They didn’t know if she was going to hang on.”
Her surgeon delayed a trip to the Middle East and stayed by her bed until she was stable. Kayley said: “After that, she turned a corner and we made it home four weeks later.”
Reggie and Honey Rose, who both had second heart ops before they were one, need at least one more each and have formed a remarkable bond.
Michelle said: “They are so close we call them our heart twins. They’re looking forward to starting school but are gutted they aren’t going to the same one.
“When they were reunited after lockdown, they grabbed hold of each other and wouldn’t let go.” Michelle was full of praise for the charity Little Hearts Matter ( lhm.org.uk ) and said “I don’t know how I would have made it through without them and Kayley.”