Stimulating development

MILL CREEK – Imagine the fragility of newborn twins weighing about 2 pounds each and not much bigger than your hand.

Hannah and Sophia Christian lived the first four months of their lives in hospital intensive care units after being born at 28 weeks, just seven months into their mother’s pregnancy.

Sophia was transported from Providence Everett Medical Center to Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Doctors told the twins’ parents, Jonathan and Sarah Christian, that she was one of the sickest babies there.

“I feared every day she would pass away,” her mother said.

Every time the phone rang early in the morning or late at night, “I froze in fear … knowing it was the hospital with a bad report.”

Now 20 months old, it would be hard to know the Christian twins were once so frail. They bound around a special room at Providence Everett Medical Center designed to challenge and strengthen their development.

A tall bubble tube changes color as Hannah leans down and presses buttons bigger than her hands. Sophia plays in an area filled with colored balls.

These are just part of the services both twins receive at the hospital’s Children’s Center to help them overcome the disabilities caused by their extremely early birth.

An annual event on Saturday in Everett, the March of Dimes walk, supports research to try to prevent premature births, the disabilities they cause, and help children and parents like the Christian family.

In Washington, one in 10 babies is born prematurely, a leading killer of newborns and cause of disabilities.

Sophia and Hannah are well on their way to overcoming problems caused by their premature births, yet many other babies face a host of physical and development problems that can be caused by prematurity.

Twenty to 40 percent of low birth weight babies, weighing just over 3 pounds, develop lasting disabilities, according to Valorie Fanger, spokeswoman for the Washington chapter of the March of Dimes.

Nearly all babies born at less than 26 weeks – far short of the typical pregnancy of about 40 weeks – initially require extra oxygen to help them breathe.

Babies weighing just 1 to 2 pounds at birth are too immature to suck, swallow and breathe at the same time, so they must be fed intravenously until they develop more fully.

Nearly half of all infants born extremely prematurely have significantly more learning and physical disabilities by the time they reach kindergarten age than other children their age, Fanger said.

“If you can diagnose the issues early and get the kids into therapy early, then a lot of times you can have a success story,” she said.

The Christian twins spent four months in intensive care units for infants at hospitals in Everett and Seattle, following their birth on Aug. 28, 2004. Sophia still needed supplemental oxygen when she arrived home in December.

Like many premature babies, both twins were hypersensitive to noise and light.

“When they’re born so early, their central nervous system isn’t ready to be bombarded with all the stimulation,” said Lynne Clark-McNamara, a specialist at the Children’s Center. She has helped the twins with special therapies since they were born.

“A car horn can set them off, get them very upset,” she said, sometimes triggering tantrums or causing them to be hyperactive.

Sophia used to scream when her mom turned on the vacuum cleaner. “I couldn’t vacuum in the house without someone holding her,” her mom said.

The tall bubble tube at the Children’s Center, with its changing colors, has helped Sophia overcome some of her extreme sensitivities to light and noise. It has a deep, gentle bass vibration.

Hannah’s premature birth left her with digestive problems so severe that she’s still fed from a tube and is reluctant to chew or even put food to her mouth.

Although Sophia still receives some tube feedings, too, she’s much more eager to eat.

Sarah Christian hopes that both her daughters will no longer need their feeding tubes by the time they enter school.

“We’re just amazed as Sophia’s progress,” she said. “Four months ago, she was not eating, except maybe trying a cracker here and there.”

Now Christian sometimes gives Sophia part of a bagel with cream cheese. “She loves it,” Christian said. “I can even throw a piece of sandwich meat on it now, which is outstanding.”

And Hannah, who was the last to crawl and the first to walk, continues to progress with other muscle and coordination skills.

When Christian thinks of the first glimpse of her frail twins, just slightly more than a foot long and with nearly translucent skin, “I would not have thought they would be doing this well,” she said.

“In fact, we’ve had many nurses and doctors comment they wouldn’t believe they were the same kids.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

March of Dimes walk

Registration for the March of Dimes walk in Snohomish County will begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at American Legion Memorial Park, 145 Alverson Blvd. in Everett. The walk begins at 8:30 a.m. There is no registration fee. However, walkers raise funds for the March of Dimes campaign to prevent premature births. For information, check the March of Dimes Web site at or call 206-624-1373.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

Jamel Alexander, center, listens as a Snohomish County jury records their verdict of guilty, in the murder of Shawna Brune, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  Alexander was convicted in the first degree murder of Brune. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Appeals court orders new trial in Everett woman’s stomping death

Appellate judges ruled that additional evidence should have been admitted in Jamel Alexander’s trial for the murder of Shawna Brune.

Kristy Carrington, CEO of Providence Swedish of North Puget Sound, speaks during a Healthcare Summit at Everett Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Providence, Optum and Premera discuss challenges at Everett summit

Five panelists spoke on labor shortages, high costs and health care barriers Wednesday at Everett Community College.

Most Read