DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) The last year has been filled with the highest highs and lowest lows for the family of our Action 2 News This Morning reporter Kristyn Allen.
Kristyn Allen and her daughters, all healthy and thriving now, enjoy play time at home.
In February 2019, her then-infant twin daughters were fighting a nasty virus, making it hard for them to breathe.
At times, doctors were unsure if they would survive.
As they mark a milestone this week -- one year since the more ill twin reached her most critical point -- they sit down to share the challenges and joys they've experienced as the twins continue to improve.
They hope their story offers a message of hope and strength to other parents.
"From being told that she's likely not going to survive a two-hour ambulance ride to being where she is now, it's impossible not to count your blessings," says Kristyn, alongside her husband Greg.
The thankful parents are overcome with joy and gratitude to see their twin daughters, Braelyn and Brielle playing together with big sister, Bailey.
Right now, they're all healthy, and thankfully, nowhere near a hospital.
"To see that smile on her face is the best, to make an expression at her and she'll smile back at you, because it wasn't always like that," says Greg.
A year ago this week, Braelyn fell critically ill.
Both girls, at just two months old, contracted Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, a respiratory virus like a common cold to adults, but potentially deadly to children when their tiny lungs struggle to keep going on their own.
Doctors rushed Braelyn to Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee, deciding to use a last resort treatment by placing her on ECMO, a machine that breathed for her.
It was only after 13 long days, as Braelyn fought hard and finally gained the strength and ability to begin breathing on her own again, that doctors told Kristyn they weren't sure at first her daughter could survive it.
"I always think of her neighbor in the cardiac ICU, another little baby who was on ECMO just like she was, and needed a heart transplant and she didn't survive, and that could have been us," says Kristyn, fighting back tears. "We can do this."
In April they came home.
Braelyn was still on oxygen and a feeding tube, putting them on a new journey Kristyn says they had no idea was coming.
"I didn't realize what our lifestyle would become in terms of all the doctor appointments and the therapy each week and calling the insurance companies to make sure this is covered, and calling medical supply companies when we're running low on syringes or feeding bags for her feeding pump and the pharmacy," says Kristyn, describing her typical week. "It's still hard, but I'm amazed at how much we've adapted to it."
While Brielle was not as sick and bounced back quickly, Braelyn had been intubated so long, she lost her ability to suck on a bottle and desire to eat on her own.
"She ate nothing, nothing by mouth from April to November. (She) cried, closed her lips, turned away. Refused," says Kristyn. "There are times that I questioned if she would ever eat again."
Braelyn began therapy twice a week at CP.
Kristyn and Greg worked hard at home, during every meal, for months.
In November, she started to like baby food.
Then on the twins' first birthday in December came the magical moment. Braelyn actually ate her birthday cake. It was a milestone Kristyn had only hoped for, but couldn't believe she saw it happen.
"You really think about how far she's come when you get those expressions from her," says Greg.
"It has, I feel like, taught us a lot of life lessons. And certainly you have days where you think I can't do this, I don't want to do this, and people say to me all the time, you're so strong. I don't know how you do it. But I'm not unlike anybody else. I have days where I cry in my car, or I cry in the shower, or I don't think I can do this, or I'm exhausted, but the one thing I always go back to is she's here," says Kristyn.
Kristyn and Greg are sharing their story to show others how dangerous and serious RSV can be, so other parents know, too.
"It's been an incredible journey, but one that I think we were meant to be on," Kristyn adds.
They also now know one of the reasons one twin was much sicker than the other was because of a congenital heart defect they didn't know about when the sickness started.
Tomorrow night on Action 2 News at 10:00, we'll take a look at how common heart problems are in children and the surgery Braelyn now faces as she continues healing.