SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Think about holding two cans of 12-ounce soup in one hand. In 1947, premature twin Dayle Campbell was about the size of both cans fitting into a palm of a parent’s hand.
Her sister, Diane, was the same. The two twins weighed about 28 ounces each, which is about 60 ounces less than the average weight of each twin baby born today.
They were expected to die rather than become a state record as twins who survived possibly the lowest birth weight at that time in state history.
“It really was a big deal because they didn’t think we were going to live through the first day,” said Dayle Campbell Taylor, now 72, and living in Snug Harbor with twin Diane Campbell-Cook, and Taylor’s husband, Bill.
One doctor today, who has delivered thousands of babies, called their birth weights exceedingly small and said that in 1947 they had about a one-percent chance of survival.
“They didn’t even weigh us until we were three days old,” said Dayle, noting they could have even weighed less at the moment they were born. Diane arrived on Dec. 21 in an elevator at the Providence Lying-In Hospital at 5:15 p.m. and Dayle about five minutes later in the delivery room at 5:20 p.m.
Lives that began as high risks of never happening instead beat the odds against them and now have stretched into their golden years.
“You can survive being a preemie and be normal,” said Dayle about conditions that face premature children and their parents in every generation.
“The doctor told my father, ‘They are very tiny, but they are fighters. The first 24 hours will be critical. If they make it, then there’s a good chance they will survive,” she recalled.
Even though they did survive that initial day, danger was far from over. The two required around-the-clock monitoring in incubators for four months. Medical staff reviewed and checked on all progress to ensure that they were growing and developing, they said.
A 1958 British medical journal study about premature babies at that time put the life-long issues ahead of them succinctly.
In a study of 212 infants born between 1922 and 1947 and whose birth weights varied from 26 ounces to 40 ounces, 48 percent were considered to be of average physical development and about 60 percent of average mental development.
“We were lucky,” Dayle said, “We didn’t have any of the real mental and physical disabilities that came come with this. “
“I was a ‘blue baby’ and received 100 percent oxygen, which you do not give to people today. However, both we both were anemic and needed the extra oxygen. So, it didn’t affect mental, blindness and deafness,” she added.
Their life-long bond of survival, though, has held them close over the last 70 years.
Until Diane’s recent heart attack after which she moved in with Dayle, they called each other every day, though visits could be separated by years or decades. Dayle moved around frequently with her husband who was in the military and Diane set roots in upstate New York.
Despite distance, their lives shared similar experiences, both said.
For instance, both died and were revived in later years during medical procedures during separate operations unrelated to their births.
At a family wedding and without ever speaking to each other about the dresses, both chose near-identical dresses and colors. When telling this story in a recent interview, that deep connection burst through.
“When I saw Dayle, she had the same outfit that I had on,” said Diane, and then at exactly the same moment and in the same tone bringing a harmony to their voices, they said together, “And we didn’t even realize.”
Both also started careers in nursing, with Diane continuing for many years until injuring her back and Dayle short-circuited that desire for an interest in computers and interior design.
Similarly, they liked horses and equestrian activities, with Dayle owning a horse when living in Scituate and Diane in upstate New York participating in many related activities.
Dayle’s husband, Bill, said that while they are strongly connected, they do have different personalities.
“Dayle likes arts and crafts such as painting and basket making. Diane likes to work outside with her hands. They get along well and seldom argue,” he said.
For Dayle, the circumstances of her birth also led to a long connection with the doctor who delivered her. He became both a family and personal friend, often treating the twins later in life through his pediatric practice.
The late Dr. George Davis of Cranston and the late Irene Schinzel, nurse and supervisor of the premature nursery, attended their mother, Doris, during their births at Providence Lying-In Hospital, which later became Women & Infants hospital in Providence.
It was the first hospital in the state to specialize in obstetrical services and the first to offer specialized nurse training. The name, lying-in, is derived from a term used in European and Early American forms of treatment after birth, including the traditional practice involving long bed rest.
It was once considered an essential component of the postpartum period, even if there were no medical complications during childbirth.
Prior to the hospital opening in 1884, there was no place in the city of Providence or nearby surrounding towns where a woman, not living in her own home, could have any measure a proper care at the time of having child, according to a 1986 application for recognition by the federal National Register of Historic Places for the hospital.
By the time of Dayle and Diane’s births, the hospital was recognized nationally for its trend-setting approaches to maternity care. It eventually evolved to Women’s & Infants where Dayle’s son, William, was born in 1970 — with an average birth weight — and was delivered by Davis with Schinzel also attending.
“The nurse said that she wanted to retire, but was going to wait until I had my baby so that she could be there for him, too,” said Dayle.
For these two twins who challenged and won against life’s natural threats to survival, they look back at happy and normal lives, they said. Both have strong religious convictions.
“When I had a heart attack,” Diane said, “I died. When they went to put in a stent, the artery exploded and I died and doctors brought me back. And I said the Lord wants us here for a reason. We haven’t filled our purpose yet.”
Her sister, sitting next to her, look at her and nodding. “People say, what do you mean. I say, when we were born, we should have died, but we didn’t. He wanted us here and we haven’t finished our mission,” Diane said.