Gillian Hinds and husband Neil were thrilled when they discovered they were expecting twins. However, only days after identical boys George and Thomas were born, their joy turned to grief when George suddenly became ill and died. This year, George would have turned 18 alongside his twin Thomas and his parents say the pain never goes away. Gillian tells AASMA DAY her story and why she is now turning the tragedy into something positive to help other families.
As the lift doors opened to the hospital ward and Gillian Hinds spotted the empty incubator next to one containing her surviving twin, she collapsed to the floor howling with grief.
Closing her eyes as she remembers the pain, Gillian, now 53, recalls: “I remember the lift doors opening and there was George’s empty incubator next to Thomas.
“It was a stark reminder he had gone. Going back into the hospital to see Thomas after George’s death unleashed the grief.”
Gillian, married to Neil for 33 years and living in Hoghton, near Preston, already had sons Nathan, then seven, and Ashley, 14-months, when she learned she was again pregnant.
At around 15 weeks she discovered she was having twins. Neil could not come to the sca with her as he was working.
She says: “When they told me I was carrying twins, I was shocked. My first reaction was to laugh. It seemed unbelievable.”
At another scan a few weeks later that the couple discovered they were having identical twin boys and were delighted.
Gillian says: “I love my boys and was thrilled to be having two more. As long as they were healthy, I was happy.”
At 27-weeks Gillian went for a Doppler scan to measure the blood flow in different parts of the baby’s body.
The scan revealed one twin was fine, but the other wasn’t. Things deteriorated and Gillian gave birth by emergency caesarean section at 29 weeks.
George was born first on July 2 1997 weighing 2lbs 11oz, then Thomas, 3lb 3oz.
The twins were taken to the neonatal unit at the former Sharoe Green Hospital in Preston. They were both on ventilators but doing well.
Gillian says: “Both boys had jaundice and needed ventilating, but apart from that, they were fine.
“George and Thomas were so tiny – like tiny dolls.
“You couldn’t tell them apart. I was so excited about having twins.
“Thomas came off the ventilator first after five days and George came off two days later.
“They were perfectly fine and so happy. We now had four boys and Nathan and Ashley had new twin brothers.
“We were looking forward to the day we brought them home.”
However, a devastating telephone call five days later sent the family’s world into turmoil.
Gillian recalls: “The hospital rang in the morning to say George had been unwell during the night.
“They told us they weren’t sure if it was an infection and had given him a blood transfusion and antibiotics.
“We raced to the hospital and after two or three hours, doctors managed to stabilise George.
“We came home for an hour and had just got home when the hospital rang and told us to go back straight away.
“I remember as we were driving through Preston saying: ‘Please, just get me there.’
“We got to the ward and George was just grey. We had him baptised and spent the next few hours making memories in a room with him.
“George passed away in Neil’s arms at 3.30pm on July 11 1997. We were utterly devastated and our grieving journey began. But we had to be strong for each other and our three boys.”
Returning to the hospital to visit Thomas and seeing George’s empty incubator is something etched in Gillian’s mind. But she knew she had to keep going for the sake of the boys at home and for Thomas, who continued to thrive.
Thomas came home after 10 weeks in hospital and Gillian remembers the pain mingled with the joy.
She says: “Walking out of the hospital with just one baby was awful when I knew we should have been carrying two.
“We had already bought two car seats, two Moses baskets and a twin pram in preparation for bringing two babies home.
“It was difficult walking out with just Thomas when I had walked into the hospital pregnant with two babies.
“I cannot describe the pain of losing George. It was raw pain, an open wound that never heals.”
To compound her grief, Gillian found well-meaning platitudes from people didn’t help.
She explains: “A lot of people said to me: ‘At least you’ve still got the other one.’
“I knew they were trying to be kind, but these words didn’t help at all.
“I tried to explain that if someone had four children, how would they feel if you asked them which one they could live without?
“Some people sent us twins cards and I thought that was lovely. I did give birth to twins.”
George’s funeral was held on July 18 1997 at St James Church in Brindle near Chorley. Gillian and Neil lowered his tiny coffin into the grave together.
Gillian recalls: “The pain seemed to get worse after the funeral. I remember the vicar saying in time, we would learn to live with the pain.
“I thought: ‘How on earth does anyone learn to live with such pain?’
“But you do in time. It is something you never get over, but you learn to live with it.
One of the hardest things for the family was not knowing why George died, even after the anguish of a post mortem.
It is only over the years that Gillian has, through research, learned George’s death was due to twin-to-twin syndrome. This is when one twin takes all the nutrients from the other so one ends up with lots of fluid, and the other with none.
She explains: “Nowadays, there is treatment for it and doctors can laser the blood vessels in the cord and perform fluid reduction.
“But even now, there aren’t many hospitals which offer the laser treatment. Nowhere around here does it.
“A lot of babies still die from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. You can still lose one or both twins.”
Gillian and Neil found all the ‘firsts’ without George were the worst, the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary of his death.
To add to the heartache, they had the mirror image of George in Thomas. Every milestone Thomas reached was a reminder George should have been sharing the experience.
Gillian says: “We were so grateful we had Thomas and still are.
“But everything Thomas does, we can’t help but think George should have been doing it too.
“I remember getting really upset when we were looking around for schools. A teacher asked if I was struggling with Thomas starting school. I had to explain I’d actually had twins and was upset as there should have been two starting together. Through life there are constant reminders, even today.”
Gillian has always hated the month of July because of the memories associated with George’s death and funeral.
She says: “Poor Thomas didn’t have a birthday cake until he was about four. I couldn’t bring myself to buy one.
“I tried over the years to separate Thomas’s birthday and the anniversary of George’s death in my mind for his sake. But it was too hard as they were born on the same day.”
Smiling proudly as she talks about Thomas, Gillian describes him as a “star,” a “textbook child.”
She says: “Thomas is wonderful and we have been really lucky with him. He was a good baby and child and has blossomed into a brilliant teenager.
“Thomas is mature for his years, very caring and sensitive. He has never wanted a birthday party as he knows how much it would upset us.
“Since about the age of six, Thomas kept saying: ‘Mum, I can’t wait until I can learn to drive!’
“When he was 16, he found a personalised number plate and bought it. It is ‘G11 TGH’ which is his and George’s initials and the 11th is the day he died.
“For a 16-year-old boy to think of that was so sensitive and mature.”
This July marked Thomas’s 18th birthday – and 18 years since George’s death.
A chance conversation with friend and neighbour Angela Wilson led Gillian to come up with ‘George’s Legacy’.
She says: “Angela asked what I was doing for Thomas’s 18th birthday and I snapped at her saying: ‘We’re not doing anything. You know I hate July.’
“That night, I couldn’t sleep as I felt guilty for snapping at Angela.
“I rang her at 7:30am the next day and apologised. The next night I began thinking something positive had to come out of this as I knew I couldn’t keep living with ‘what ifs’ and ‘what should have beens’.
“All of a sudden, I thought of George’s Legacy and all these ideas began flowing.
“I want to support people in similar situations. Only a parent who has been through the same truly understands.
“In that horrendous moment of grief, there are things you don’t think of which you later wish you had.
“My biggest regret is that we have no photo of George and Thomas together.”
George’s Legacy has already gathered 1,200 likes on Facebook, raised funds for babies’ headstones and provided clothing and support to families.
Gillian also plans to raise funds for Healing Hearts teddy bears for bereaved families, with the name of their baby on, which they can hold for comfort when their arms are empty.
Gillian says: “Setting up George’s Legacy made such a difference to Thomas’s birthday this year.
“It has given me a new lease of life and made the pain easier to bear.
“I feel like I am doing something for George.
“We will always be mum and dad to four boys: three in our arms and one in our hearts.”
• Thomas Hinds, 18, an apprentice HGV diesel mechanic, has always known he should have had a twin, but says he did not fully understand when he was younger.
He says: “It was quite difficult growing up knowing I should have had a twin. I had to grow up quite quickly.
“I do sometimes feel there is someone missing and wonder what it would have been like to have an identical twin brother.
“I got the car regisitration plate incorporating mine and George’s initials as I wanted to keep his memory alive.
“I think it is great my mum has set up George’s Legacy. As well as helping other people, it helps her too.”
• George’s Legacy was founded to offer emotional support and advice to bereaved parents in Lancashire and beyond.
Whether your loss is recent or many years ago, George’s Legacy supports and helps from the early hours after a baby’s death and through the weeks, months and years ahead.
The organisation understands from a parent’s perspective the shock and the grief of their loss as they are suddenly faced with decisions they never expected to make.
They support with making memories with the baby such as baptism, bathing, dressing, photographs, bringing baby home and help with funeral arrangements.
Only a parent that has been through this experience will understand how important these memories can be as part of the grieving journey.
All aspects of the service are confidential and the wishes for the baby and family are paramount. George’s Legacy aims to provide every local hospital with a cold cot so families can spend as long as they wish making memories with their baby. They also want every hospital to have a home-from-home bereavement suite.
George’s Legacy also fundraise for individual families to provide grief packages, clothes and blankets for premature babies and help towards funeral or headstone costs.
• If you would like to make a donation of funds or raffle prizes or would like to knit clothes and blankets for premature babies, contact Gillian on: 07949 678232, on e-mail at: email@example.com. Visit George’s Legacy at www.georgeslegacy.co.uk or visit the Facebook page George’s Legacy.
Gillian, whose older two sons have special needs, is also asking anyone with a family member with special needs who would like to get involved in events to get in touch.