Our destiny to live and love
By Donald DeMarco
and Brielle Jackson were born on Oct. 17, 1995, a full 12 weeks ahead
of their due date. The standard practice, that time, at the Medical
Centre of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, where the twins came into
the world, was to place them in separate incubators in order to reduce
the risk of infection.
Kyrie's birth weight was two pounds, three ounces. She gained weight
quickly and slept calmly. Brielle, however, three pounds lighter than
her sister, had breathing and heart-rate problems. The oxygen level
in her blood was low, and her weight gain was slow.
On Nov. 12, tiny Brielle went into critical condition. Her stick-thin
arms and legs turned bluish-grey as she gasped for air. Her heart rate
soared. The Jackson parents watched, terrified that their little daughter
It is said that desperate moments call for desperate measures. Nurse
Gayle Kasparian, after exhausting all the conventional remedies, decided
to try a procedure that was common in parts of Europe, but virtually
unknown in the United States. With parental permission, she placed the
twins in the same bed. No sooner had she closed the incubator door,
Brielle snuggled up to Kyrie and began to calm down. Within minutes,
her blood-oxygen readings improved. As she dozed, Kyrie wrapped her
left arm around her smaller sister. Brielle's heart rate stabilized
and her temperature rose to normal.
In due time, the twins went home. Their parents placed them, once again,
in the same bed where they continued to thrive. Even after five years,
according to mom and dad, the twins still sleep together and, not surprisingly,
The photograph of Kyrie hugging her little sister, dubbed "the Rescuing
Hug," appeared in both Life magazine and Reader's Digest. It brought
fame to the pair and spurred a growing interest in co-bedding premature
twins, triplets, and quads. The University of Massachusetts Memorial,
for example, has co-bedded at least 100 sets of multiple-birth preemies.
Observing this practice over a period of five years, the hospital staff
there have not found a single case of twin-to-twin infection.
In addition, clinical studies have shown that premature twins enjoy
substantial benefits when they are placed in the same bed together.
One researcher, Mary Whalen, reports the following benefits:
- Decreased number of apnea problems
- Improved blood-oxygen levels
- Increased weight gain
- Better feeding
- Greater temperature regulation
- Decreased agitation
- Decreased length of hospital stays and likelihood of re-admission
Someone has said that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight for
maintenance, and 12 for growth. This may not be mathematically accurate,
but it does illuminate a truth about human beings: "I touch, therefore
we are," is infinitely more revealing of human nature than "I think,
therefore I am."
Science tells us that hugging is healthy in a variety of ways. It strengthens
our immune system, reduces stress, assists sleep, and is an antidote
to depression. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill state that cuddling with your spouse can be good for your blood
pressure. Kathleen Keating may not tell us everything we want to know
about the mutual benefits of hugging in her book, The Hug Therapy, but
she does make it clear that hugging can be wonderfully therapeutic in
a variety of ways for people of all ages.
The word "miraculous" is often associated with the benefits of hugging.
It would seem that the word "natural" would be more suitable. After
all, we are naturally constituted with bodies. And it is through our
bodies that we come into contact with the outside world and the people
who inhabit it. And it is by means of our bodies that we come to understand
who we are as embodied persons. Consider what the author of the "Theology
of the Body," Pope John Paul II, has said about how we function as human
persons: "As human beings, we are capable of participating in the very
humanity of other people, and because of this every human being can
be our neighbour ... The Gospel also suggests this by using not the
word 'other,' but the word 'neighbour.'"
We adults are often blind to the obvious. Sometimes, it takes two premature
infants (young enough to be dispatched through abortion as unwanted
others) to remind us of what kind of beings we are, and that we are
primarily natured to each other precisely as neighbours. Yet, we are
embodied neighbors. Through hugs and handshakes, smiles and squeezes,
touches and tickles, kisses and cuddles, we honour and affirm one another.
This is not something we need to learn. Brielle and Kyrie knew this
long before they were conscious of it. But it is something we may need
to re-learn, and surely something we should never forget.
Participation reveals more truly the most fundamental dynamic of our
human nature. Unfortunately, we are caught up in the frenzy of individualization,
and as a result, sometimes forget who we really are. In trying to secure
our "right" to be an individual, we can easily lose sight of the more
basic fact that we are persons whose destiny is to live and love in
the interpersonal horizon of giving and receiving.
Little Kyrie's hug encircles every one of us, reminding us in the most
gentle of manners that we are called to participate through love in
the lives of all our neighbours.
Donald DeMarco is an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College
and Seminary in Massachusetts.