BATESBURG-LEESVILLE, S.C. (WIS) - There's very little one Midlands family takes for granted after they were given time they didn't think they'd have.
Pregnant with their first children, the Halls were gearing up for an exciting bonus -- not one but two little girls who were identical twins. But complications brought a worst-case scenario and a very premature delivery. Kelsey gave birth to her two little girls, weighing just ounces, at 25 weeks.
"On our very first day of the NICU, they said it would be the biggest rollercoaster of your lives,” said Kelsey. “And it has been."
Kelsey and Dakota Hall are celebrating the twins’ first birthday this past week, after what has been a rollercoaster of a year, with little Wrenley still in and out of the hospital. Wrenley was born at just 13 oz., while her sister, Oaklyn weighed 1 lb., 5 oz.
"I just remember being so scared. We were in shock,” Kelsey said. “Because the doctor came in and said we're taking you to emergency C-section right now. And all I could think is I'm 25 weeks and a day right now… there's so much unknown."
It was unclear at that point if both or either of the twins would survive.
"It just makes you not take anything for granted,” The Halls said.
Especially in light of new data, the Halls’ experience mirrors many across South Carolina. March of Dimes ranked South Carolina with a D- grade and with a preterm birth rate of 11.3 % of babies. New data from DHEC also shows that South Carolina’s infant mortality rate increased to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births.
Two of the leading causes, according to the data, include short gestation and low birth weight and maternal complications of pregnancy.
Kelsey saw a number of doctors, including Dr. Berry Campbell, the director of maternal and fetal medicine at Prisma Health.
"We saw an improvement before 2014, but since that time it has slowly risen,” said Dr. Campbell.
Dr. Campbell said Kelsey was lucky. She came in for her prenatal care and was referred to specialists early who were able to intervene and keep her from delivering even earlier or worse, losing the babies entirely. But he said not all women are getting treatment they need.
"South Carolina is a small state and you would think transportation wouldn't be a big issue, but if you look at a lot of the patients that deliver with no prenatal care. They hover around those pockets where they don't have those obstetrical providers,” Dr. Campbell said.
Of South Carolina's 46 counties, March of Dimes reported there are seven counties considered “maternal care deserts” with no care. Another 12 counties have limited care. Then, there’s the issue of race and socioeconomics. Preterm birth rate among African-American women is 56% higher, according to the March of Dimes yearly report.
"The other really disturbing part of that is the dichotomy between Caucasian and African-American and other populations… Latino,” said Dr. Campbell. “The disparity is tremendous."
But the women who do get care experience the advancements in neonatal care and lifesaving technology. That’s certainly evidenced by Wrenley, born 13 oz and now 16 lbs. at just a year old. Her sister, Oaklyn, was home late spring of 2019, while Wrenley is just now fully home with her breathing machine.
“People tell us all the time, I don’t see how you do this and we’re like you just do.”