OSU-Michigan Rivalry Put Aside to Save Twin Babies in Trouble

November 21, 2017 10:00 AM

When a rare complication was revealed during pregnancy, a highly specialized fetal procedure at U-M was the only answer for this Buckeye family.

The engagement photo says it all: two college students in matching red Ohio State University polo shirts next to a cymbal.

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Ohio State and music brought Stephanie and Aaron Gonya together in 2004 when they met in OSU’s Athletic Band.

Stephanie spent many football Saturdays on the field during the Buckeyes’ halftime shows as a marching band member. Before becoming a student, Aaron grew up cheering for Ohio State — a fandom that becomes a little more passionate around the big rivalry game against University of Michigan every year.

Needless to say, these lifelong Ohio residents have plenty of red-and-gray attire in their closets.

But in 2014, the couple didn’t hesitate to start a relationship with U-M.

It meant saving their two babies’ lives.

“Now we root for both teams,” Stephanie says. “Sometimes we have both the Michigan game and Ohio State game on at the same time. In our house, we cheer, ‘Go blue gray!’”

Only one option

The Gonyas were thrilled to learn they were expecting again in 2014, finding out at a 17-week ultrasound that they were having twins, making them a family of six. However, something didn’t look right — one baby appeared to have significantly more fluid than the other.

They were referred to a hospital in Cleveland where they got grim news: Their babies had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. The condition meant their boys, Ian and Michael, were in separate amniotic sacs but shared one placenta. Instead of getting equal amounts of blood and nutrients, one had become a blood donor to the other.

This rare condition affects 10 to 15 percent of shared-placenta pregnancies. It causes one baby to receive too much blood, straining the heart and making it work overtime. Meanwhile, the blood donor baby gives away so much blood that his or her kidneys begin to fail.

Without intervention, the boys had a less than 15 percent chance of survival.

“They explained all of the options. None were really options for us except for the one that had the best chance of saving them both,” Stephanie says.

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That’s when the Gonyas began to root for blue.

The Gonyas trekked from their home in Port Clinton, Ohio, to U-M’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. Michigan Medicine’s Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center is the only center for in-utero fetal therapy in Michigan and the surrounding states and among roughly 20 in the country.

A team led by U-M maternal-fetal medicine specialist Deborah Berman, M.D., inserted an instrument the size of a pinky nail into Stephanie’s abdomen, through her uterus and into an amniotic sac to let in a camera. Berman then mapped out the improper blood connections and disconnected them with laser therapy.

“We were thinking that this sounded like something that happens on TV,” Stephanie says. “But we didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. They had to move pretty quickly.”

The procedure worked.

Berman delivered the twins at Von Voigtlander three months later, in January 2015. They were born at 34 weeks, and both weighed over 5 pounds. After six days in the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, they were able to go home.

“I adored taking care of them. We had many laughs after they confessed that not only were they both Buckeyes and avid Ohio State fans, but also Ohio State alum and part of the Ohio State Marching Band. I have always been a huge Michigan fan and fan of the Michigan Marching Band,” Berman says with a laugh.

“I worried about their driving all the way to Ann Arbor on the winter roads weekly and then twice weekly, but they kept saying that U-M was the only place they wanted to be.”

Healthy twins today

Today, Ian and Michael are healthy, active 2 year olds who love Star Wars, tractors, football, wrestling with each other and playing with their older sisters, Aleah, 7, and Annaliese, 4.

“We came home wearing Michigan hats. Some of our family members were not happy about that,” Stephanie laughs. “We told them, football is just a game. University of Michigan saved our babies. You’ll have to get over it.”