When Victorian mum Hannah Pearl noticed her three-day-old daughter Madison was feeding slower than her twin sister Sophia, she was concerned but not overly worried.
However a trip to Geelong Hospital for a check-up turned the family’s life upside down after Madison was quickly rushed into open heart surgery, with the mum having no idea how serious her daughter’s condition was.
Madison - who had been diagnosed with a heart murmur soon after the twins' October 2016 birth – was found to suffer from a narrowing of her aortic arch.
“They said Madison had a heart murmur and to come back get her checked in two weeks. It was quite common for babies to be born with heart murmurs and it’s something they grow out of,” Hannah tells Be.
“She was born so little, being a twin. We went home on day three, and I thought her sister was just smashing her bottle, and it was taking Madi so long to have hers. I was thinking maybe it’s the wrong teat, or at the wrong angle, maybe I should be breastfeeding.”
With her parents and husband Aiden at home, Hannah – who also has a three-year-old son Alex – decided it couldn’t hurt to take her daughter in to see a midwife.
“By the time we got to the hospital, they were like ‘Oh god, she’s so sick’,” says Hannah.
Asked by hospital staff if she had noticed Madison was suffering from laboured breathing, Hannah had no idea – despite her parenting experience with Alex.
“I didn’t notice any difference, all I noticed is she was taking forever to drink her bottle. I honestly didn’t think anything of it,” explains Hannah.
“My whole big thing is that if it was a single child, and it was your first [how would you know?] I’d had another child and he was two-and-a-half at the time, so you’ve been through a lot with kids – and you know the obvious.
“Would the first-time mum notice? Would a mum without a twin notice?
Madison was rushed to The Royal Children's Hospital and prepped for surgery – just seven days after arriving in the world.
“That was the worst day,” says a still-emotional Hannah. “They had to starve her for the whole day so she just screamed for 24 hours, it was awful.”
After three days in Intensive Care, Madison made it home – only for infection to see the newborn back in hospital at the start of December and going under the knife again.
It was after this second surgery that doctors allowed Madi’s twin Sophia to lie with her sister in her recovery cot.
“The comfort for her was the breathing and having someone else there,” says Hannah. “I wasn’t allowed to pick Madi up with a breathing tube, but we were allowed to put Soph with her.
“Even now, Madi will put her hands through the cot to get to Soph – because she couldn’t move for so long, and she’s got no strength in her legs... she’s just watched and she’s always looked for Soph."
Fast forward to today, and although Madi is one kilogram lighter than her twin and noticeably smaller, Hannah says her daughter’s future looks bright – a prognosis that would have been very different if they hadn’t taken her to hospital when they did.
“She’s got a small aortic valve still, so that has to be monitored,” says Hannah. “She’s got no strength in her legs but she’ll get there.”
“What they told us is that she would have just passed away in her sleep because she didn’t have the strength to keep breathing. She wouldn’t have made it past day 10.”