Savannah O'Malley calls her sister, Tennessy Fraumeni, an "amazing aunt." The women, who live in Tacoma, Washington, were pregnant at the same time in 2017, when O'Malley's twin sons, Lochlan and Lex, were born premature at 24 weeks gestation.
"When she would visit the NICU, she had a baby in her belly," O'Malley recalled. "It was pretty crazy for her to look at my twins knowing that the baby in her belly probably looked the same."
Visiting her tiny nephews in the NICU left a lasting impression on Fraumeni, who recently ordered a personalized face mask from an Etsy seller that makes a bold statement about why mask-wearing matters.
"This is why," the mask, which O'Malley shared on Instagram, reads.
Pictured under the words is a photo of Lochlan and Lex in the NICU, breathing with the help of ventilators.
O'Malley's twins spent 15 weeks in the NICU at Tacoma General Hospital, enduring multiple surgeries before coming home a week before their due date. In the three years Lochlan and Lex have been alive, their challenges have continued.
"We have attended over a hundred doctor and specialist appointments," said O'Malley, who advocates for preemies through her blog, The Smallest Fight. "Today, my son Lex is right on track developmentally, but my son Lochlan has had bigger mountains to climb."
O'Malley says isolation is not new to her and husband, Kyle, who also have 5-year-old daughter Poppy. In addition to starting their lives on ventilators, the twins came home with oxygen to help them breathe. At 18 months old, the boys spent a month in the hospital battling RSV and influenza. Today, they still maintain a diagnosis of chronic lung disease.
"Although they look strong and healthy, a respiratory virus can put them in the hospital," O'Malley told TODAY Parents. "When COVID became a clear threat in early March, we pulled our 5-year-old daughter out of preschool and went back in to isolation just as we had done when the twins first came home from the NICU ... I know most children are not severely affected by COVID, but it is not a risk I am willing to take considering a cold has previously hospitalized my boys."
O'Malley says she and her sister hope the personalized mask raises awareness about who mask-wearing is designed to protect.
"Wearing a mask is the greatest act of kindness. You are not wearing it for yourself, you wear it to slow the spread of this nasty disease and protect the vulnerable, including babies." said O'Malley. "Preemies have little to no immune system — we are their immune system. They have fought like hell just to be here and we owe it to them to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19."