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Premature twin miracles refuse to accept medical odds

The Douglas family sits together Nov. 3, 2016, at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The parents not only tackle everyday tasks, such as keeping a clean house and working, but they also take care of their twin boys who suffer from many medical issues due to a complicated, premature birth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

The Douglas family sits together Nov. 3, 2016, at their home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The parents not only tackle everyday tasks, such as keeping a clean house and working, but they also take care of their twin boys who suffer from many medical issues due to a complicated, premature birth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Dean Fredric Douglas watches his twin brother, Luke James Douglas, play on a swing set Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Both Dean and Luke suffered complications during a premature birth at 23 weeks, however, Dean is much more limited because he had several brain bleeds that caused him to have cerebral palsy in his legs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Dean Fredric Douglas watches his twin brother, Luke James Douglas, play on a swing set Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Both Dean and Luke suffered complications during a premature birth at 23 weeks, however, Dean is much more limited because he had several brain bleeds that caused him to have cerebral palsy in his legs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy Wren-a Douglas pushes water into her son, Dean Fredric Douglas', stomach port Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Mandy and her husband must use syringes to provide their twin boys with the majority of their needed food and water throughout the day due to premature birth complications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy Wren-a Douglas pushes water into her son, Dean Fredric Douglas', stomach port Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Mandy and her husband must use syringes to provide their twin boys with the majority of their needed food and water throughout the day due to premature birth complications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy Wren-a Douglas plays with her son, Dean Fredric Douglas, Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. While her husband works at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Mandy stays at home with their three-year-old twin boys to take them to doctors appointments, take care of their typical daily routines and maintain the house. Dean and Luke were both born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy Wren-a Douglas plays with her son, Dean Fredric Douglas, Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. While her husband works at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Mandy stays at home with their three-year-old twin boys to take them to doctors appointments, take care of their typical daily routines and maintain the house. Dean and Luke were both born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

The Douglas family spends an afternoon outside playing Nov. 2, 2016, in the backyard of their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The twins enjoy playing outside; however, if they are too active there is a chance of them vomiting due to their vocal chords not functioning properly, stemming from premature birth complications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

The Douglas family spends an afternoon outside playing Nov. 2, 2016, in the backyard of their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The twins enjoy playing outside; however, if they are too active there is a chance of them vomiting due to their vocal chords not functioning properly, stemming from premature birth complications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Robbie Wren-a Aswegan reads a book to her grandsons during their third birthday party Nov. 2, 2016, at the Douglas family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The twins, born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal have experienced various physical trials along their journey through life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Robbie Wren-a Aswegan reads a book to her grandsons during their third birthday party Nov. 2, 2016, at the Douglas family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The twins, born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal have experienced various physical trials along their journey through life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Dean Fredric Douglas plays with a toy Nov. 2, 2016, at his family's home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Three-year-old Dean has gone through more than a typical child his age, including undergoing 18 surgeries and being diagnosed with cerebral palsy of the legs, due to premature birth complications with his twin brother. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Dean Fredric Douglas plays with a toy Nov. 2, 2016, at his family's home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Three-year-old Dean has gone through more than a typical child his age, including undergoing 18 surgeries and being diagnosed with cerebral palsy of the legs, due to premature birth complications with his twin brother. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy and Capt. Matthew Douglas, Air Force Space Command logistical and support officer, embrace their child Dean during a birthday celebration, Nov. 2, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Dean and his brother Luke were born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy and Capt. Matthew Douglas, Air Force Space Command logistical and support officer, embrace their child Dean during a birthday celebration, Nov. 2, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Dean and his brother Luke were born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

The Douglas family celebrates the third birthday of their twin boys Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Capt. Matthew Douglas, Air Force Space Command logistical and support officer, not only works on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., he also goes to school and helps his wife, Mandy Wren-a Douglas, take care of their twin boys. He must find whatever time he can to complete all of his tasks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

The Douglas family celebrates the third birthday of their twin boys Nov. 2, 2016, at their family home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Capt. Matthew Douglas, Air Force Space Command logistical and support officer, not only works on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., he also goes to school and helps his wife, Mandy Wren-a Douglas, take care of their twin boys. He must find whatever time he can to complete all of his tasks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

Mandy and Capt. Matthew Douglas feed their children Nov. 3, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The twins, born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal, celebrated their third birthday with family Nov. 2. Being able to feed the children together is a rarity due to Matthew Douglas’ position as a logistical and support officer for Air Force Space Command. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)
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Mandy and Capt. Matthew Douglas feed their children Nov. 3, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. The twins, born premature at 23 weeks, 17 weeks earlier than normal, celebrated their third birthday with family Nov. 2. Being able to feed the children together is a rarity due to Matthew Douglas’ position as a logistical and support officer for Air Force Space Command. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling/Released)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. --

“It was the worst day of my life,” said Capt. Matthew, Air Force Space Command logistical and support officer.

Every pregnancy has its up and downs, however, sometimes the low points affect the rest of the lives of both the parents and the children. This was just the case when Matthew and his wife, Mandy, pregnant with their twin boys, Dean and Luke, began to feel contractions at 23 weeks and six days, which is significantly shorter than the average 40 week pregnancy.

Mandy knew that was the day she would finally meet her sons, but nothing could prepare her for the journey ahead.

“There was no warning or insight into why they were born early,” said Matthew. “Sometimes tragedies strike when we least expect them to and when we are least prepared. That's what happened with the pregnancy.”

Mandy’s pregnancy was cut short without any notice, leaving her to wonder what a full-term pregnancy experience would be like.

“I wish I would have been able to experience the full range of what pregnancy was supposed to be like,” said Mandy. “I always hear mothers complaining about their pregnancies and I wish I would have been granted that gift of being able to go to full-term even with the pain and emotions that I would have felt. It was ripped from me so I may or may not ever know what full term pregnancy really means.”

Matthew and Mandy welcomed two little boys into the world with great joy on Nov. 2, 2013. With Dean and Luke being born much earlier than planned and underdeveloped, many medical issues affected them, including chronic lung disease, multiple heart surgeries, gastrostomy tubes for feeding and Dean having numerous brain bleeds and ocular nerve atrophy, a rare form of blindness.

Although they are twins, the boys have dealt with different issues. Dean has had aspiration pneumonia once before, he had to undergo surgery to stretch his esophagus, and an original nissen fundoplication surgery to reduce the chance of acid reflux and vomiting, which had to be redone, that resulted in many more complications.

Luke also had a nissen fundoplication that has partially failed, however, due to the life-threatening complications Dean experienced, the Douglas’ are not willing to have it repaired. Luke did not suffer from brain bleeds, so his vision has not been affected and he is physically capable of running around like a normal toddler.

It took time for Matthew and Mandy to figure out the line between parents and caretakers, especially for Mandy, since she stays home with the boys on a daily basis.

“We had 24/7 nursing care and we decided from the beginning that we would be the only ones to kiss our boys, so they had a clear understanding of who was daddy and mommy,” said Mandy. “We are their parents and we went to great lengths to ensure our role was clear between us and the nurses.”

Raising twin boys is hard enough, but having to maneuver around medical personnel while making decisions on how to handle the boys made life much more complicated for the Douglas parents.

“I felt like a boss more often than being a new parent,” said Mandy. “We got rid of the nurses as quickly as we could, and now Matt and I are husband-wife-parent-nurse-doctor-friend-lover-caregiver-punisher-and leader all in one.”

Another emotional challenge the Douglas’ experience is finding alone time. It is difficult for Matthew and Mandy due to their children needing more care and attention, and the lack of trained and capable people able to take care of them makes it even harder.

“Nobody else besides us and certified nurses can take care of our boys,” said Capt. Douglas.

However, the struggle of raising twin boys with numerous medical issues has brought the Douglas’ family closer and allowed them to grow as a unit, as well as individuals.

“Not only do the boys need us, but we need each other for sanity and love,” said Mandy, “Our situation just made this more challenging.”

The Douglas’ have fought through over three years of medical challenges, learning about being first-time parents and much more. They came out with two happy little boys and continue to work to provide Dean and Luke with the best life they can. Their situation changes every day and they work harder as each day passes to make life work and help the boys grow.

 “I know they will become strong, independent, intelligent, mobile, gifted young men,” said Mandy.

Though only three years old, Dean and Luke have brought happiness to many, especially their family.

Even through all of the medical issues, nurses, surgeries and internal family struggles, Matthew and Mandy can both agree on one thing: they would not be in the position they are now if it were not for the U.S. Air Force.

The Air Force has provided the Douglas family with medical care, the opportunity for Matthew to spend as much time as possible with his family, especially when the boys needed extra medical attention, and a support system that is the Air Force family.

“The Air Force has not only taken care of my twins, but it has taken care of my family,” said Matthew. “I owe the AF everything.”

With the help of the Air Force, Matthew and Mandy have learned how to navigate the struggles of being parents to Dean and Luke, while also maintaining a strong marriage with each other.

“This tragedy brought us to the brink of destruction, but it wasn't destruction in terms of divorce,” said Matthew. ”It was destruction in terms of what we longed to have for each other with having kids. We take things day by day, but I wouldn't want anyone else doing this by my side.”

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