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Giving birth prematurely causes much fear and stress for most parents. But Mallory Brinson was grateful she delivered her twin daughters early: Their premature birth saved her life and kept them safe.
“The pregnancy was a blessing. I caught the cancer early because of it,” Brinson, 27, of Coldwater, Mississippi, told TODAY.
“I gave them life and they’re helping me save mine.”
Over the past five months, Brinson faced many surprises. In September, she learned she was pregnant as she and her fiancé, Heath, planned their October 21 wedding. A few days later, she received a bigger shock: She was having twins.
“We don’t have twins on either side of our families,” she explained.
The pregnancy continued normally until Brinson was 26 weeks along. In late December, she went to the grocery store and felt a strange pressure in her belly. She talked to the doctor who believed the babies had shifted downward, creating a heavy sensation.
“My stomach was really tight. I didn’t know what the feeling was,” she said.
The next day, she felt worse. She sat in the bathtub to try to relieve the pain, but it didn’t work. Then, she started bleeding. Heath rushed her to Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women in Memphis.
“I was 2 centimeters dilated and having 2-minute apart contractions,” Brinson explained.
Doctors gave her a magnesium drip to stop labor; they hoped Brinson could carry the baby until she was 32 weeks pregnant. They also conducted some routine blood work. In the middle of the night, a nurse returned to take her blood again. There seemed to be a mistake.
“They thought my white blood cell count was super high and they wanted to make sure (my sample) wasn’t contaminated,” she said.
But the next day she learned there was no contamination. Doctors explained that she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
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“I just sat there and cried,” she said.
Her doctor told her they needed to treat her immediately.
“Acute myeloid leukemia does not give you much time. It is one of the most aggressive blood cancers,” said Dr. Muhammad Raza, Brinson’s oncologist. “All blood cancers are relatively uncommon … Having the twin pregnancy with acute leukemia is even more rare.”
On January 1, at 27 weeks pregnant, Brinson began her first round of chemotherapy. Because she was in her second trimester, the doctors could treat her without harming the babies.
“They assured me the chance of anything happening to my girls was less than 20 percent,” she said.
A few days later, Brinson developed a fever and doctors moved her to the intensive care unit. The following day, her water broke.
“My temp, blood pressure and heart rate were crazy, and the girls were like, ‘We’re coming out,’” she said.
In less than an hour, she delivered the two girls. While the babies were very tiny — Annastyn weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces; and Everly weighed 2 pounds, 3 ounces — they were in good health. Their lungs were underdeveloped and they needed to gain weight, but doctors have been monitoring them in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Their unexpected birth provided doctors with an opportunity: Brinson could undergo more aggressive treatment.
“She actually delivered at the perfect time; the side effects usually happen the second week (of chemotherapy),” Raza said.
Brinson has been through two rounds of IV chemotherapy and two rounds of chemotherapy pills. She’s in remission, but Raza believes a bone marrow transplant will help her stay healthy.
“This is one of the leukemias that has a high rate of relapse and the stem cell transplant cuts down that risk by half,” Raza said.
Brinson’s brother will likely be her donor, though she has several unrelated donors who volunteered to help, too.
Brinson sometimes worries about the future. She’s afraid the girls might come home while she’s still in the hospital or something might happen to her.
“The transplant scares me, but I know that is what I have to do to watch my girls grow up,” she said. “I try to think positively.”
The girls are thriving. Annastyn weighs 4 pounds, 7.5 ounces; and Everly weighs 4 pounds, 1.9 ounces. For the first time this week, they slept in a crib and wore clothes.
“They are doing very well for being 27-week babies,” Brinson said. “They’re fighters."
When she feels discouraged, Brinson relies on the support of her husband, family and friends, who started Team Mallory to share updates and help raise money to cover her treatment.
“God has blessed us every step of the way,” she said. “I definitely think that things have happened for a reason.”