Nicole Duhaney couldn’t believe her luck when she learned she was having identical twins.
“I felt like had won the lottery,” Duhaney, 21, told TODAY Parents. "It was the happiest surprise."
After being pregnant for what felt like an eternity, Duhaney and her boyfriend, Niles Liburd, finally welcomed sons Emre — pronounced “Em-ree" — and Elijah on Dec. 23, 2018.
“Our life seemed perfect,” the mom from Huddersfield, England, said.
But just three weeks later, Elijah developed a lump on his cheek, and both babies developed colds they couldn’t seem to kick. Suddenly, they were projectile vomiting.
At just 4 months old, Emre and Elijah were both diagnosed with childhood acute myeloid leukemia. The disease, also known as AML, is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes a large number of abnormal white blood cells, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Myeloid leukemia is the second most common pediatric blood cancer, but it's still relatively rare. In the United States there are roughly 500 children a year between the ages of 0 and 14 that are diagnosed with AML, according to Dr. Richard Aplenc, a physician-scientist within the Division of Oncology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Aplenc said it is not surprising that Emre and Elijah were diagnosed at the same time.
"If the twins are identical, then they share the same placenta and the same blood supply, so that leukemic cell goes to the other twin," Aplenc explained. "We know that if leukemia is diagnosed before a year or so, there is 100 percent chance that the other twin will develop it."
Tragically, 10-month-old Elijah passed away at home in Tuesday. Doctors allowed Emre, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, to leave the hospital so he could say goodbye to his brother.
“The love they had for each other was just unbreakable,” Duhaney noted. "They didn't like to be separated."
She recalled how Elijah pulled his brother in for a kiss after a recent stem cell transplant.
“Elijah was beautiful. Every person he met, he touched their heart," Duhaney said. “There were times when I cried and he rubbed my tears away. I wish God took me instead of him.”
As Duhaney and Liburd, 26, make funeral arrangements — a GoFundMe has been set up to help the couple with expenses — they are finding comfort in knowing Elijah took his final breaths at home.
“He spent six months of his life in a hospital,” Duhaney told TODAY Parents. “His final night he was where he wanted to be, with the people who loved him him the most.”