To ease a time of trial

The past two years have been full of highs and lows, joy and heartache for Randy and Christa Thompson of Alexandria. The couple went through a difficult pregnancy and their twin girls were born prematurely. After months of fighting, one baby lost...

The past two years have been full of highs and lows, joy and heartache for Randy and Christa Thompson of Alexandria.

The couple went through a difficult pregnancy and their twin girls were born prematurely. After months of fighting, one baby lost her struggle to survive, while the other went on to face more trials in a year and a half than most people face in a lifetime.

Besides the physical and emotional demands brought on by the family's medical crisis, they still had to face day-to-day life responsibilities - one of which is paying the bills.

At the time of the pregnancy, Christa was working as a 5th grade teacher in Alexandria, and Randy operated a lawn care and snow removal business and worked for Geneva Golf Course.

Christa was placed on bed rest part way through the pregnancy, and used up her available leave from work. She was granted a two-year leave of absence, but no longer had an income or insurance.


A social worker encouraged the Thompsons to apply for assistance from the Spare Key Program, which helps Minnesota homeowners with critically ill or seriously injured children by making a mortgage payment on their behalf.

"I really had no idea what it was all about or if tons of people had applied, but there wasn't much paperwork, so I filled it out and sent it off and then forgot about it," Christa said.

When the couple was home for the funeral of her baby, Joely, she received a call saying they were chosen to receive help from Spare Key.

"It was perfect timing," she said. "At the time, we didn't know what to do about insurance and the bills."

Spare Key submitted $1,250 to the mortgage company on the Thompsons' behalf.

"They took care of it all, which was so amazing," Christa said. "I had all I could handle and if I would have had to put a lot of effort into this it never would have happened. It was super simple and it was a huge help."

She added that the Spare Key Program and the Ronald McDonald House, where she stayed during her daughters' hospitalizations, are now the charities the family supports.

"It's our way of giving back for all they did for us. People call Danza our 'million-dollar baby,' but she is actually multiple millions," the mother said of the medical bills. "But she is definitely worth every penny."


The Thompsons' story

Randy and Christa Thompson were excitedly awaiting the arrival of twins. That excitement turned to fear and worry when the amniotic sac for one of the babies ruptured at an early stage - 18 and a half weeks - signaling a much-too-early delivery.

Knowing one of the babies was a girl, the couple named her Joely. The gender of the other baby was unknown.

The placenta was infected, making it too risky to take the one baby whose sac had ruptured and leave the other one (Joely) to develop more.

The Thompsons were encouraged to abort both babies due to the severity of the situation and the dangers imposed on Christa's health.

That was not an option the couple was willing to consider.

"I was very angry with God," Christa said. "I just wanted my babies to be healthy and there was nothing anyone could do.

"I was so mad at the doctors for saying they couldn't do anything. It's medicine. There had to be a way to protect my baby."


When the couple found out the other baby was also a girl, they named her Danza.

Complete bed rest was the only chance to hold off labor. Randy sat by Christa's side 24-hours a day, only leaving to fetch things she needed.

At 21-1/2 weeks, contractions made the Thompsons and doctors fear the babies were coming. If they arrived at that point, there was no chance for resuscitation.

Fortunately, the contractions stopped and Christa was transferred to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis where, two weeks later, the babies were born.

Danza Lee was delivered naturally at 10:35 a.m. December 14, 2007. She weighed a little over one pound and was 11 inches long and required immediate resuscitation.

Six minutes later, at 10:41 a.m., Joely Joy was born via Caesarean section, weighing 15 ounces and measuring 10-1/2 inches.

Doctors told the family there wasn't much hope for Danza, but assured them that Joely was doing OK.

The babies were cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit at Minneapolis Children's Hospital, while their parents kept a 24-hour vigil. They were in incubators and were attached to ventilators, feeding tubes and numerous monitors.


Joely Joy fought for 21 days, dying in her mother's arms at 9:08 p.m. on January 3, 2008.

Although she was much too small to be held, the medical staff realized that without her twin nearby, Danza and Christa needed each other more than ever.

With the skin-to-skin contact between mother and daughter and the help of a new guardian angel, baby Danza turned into a miracle. Despite many setbacks, including four surgeries, she made steady progress.

Doctors explained her time in utero was extremely stressful, causing her body to create natural steroids. While she may have given up, her nearby sister continually kicked her as if to say, "Wake up and keep fighting." Joely saved her sister's life, while sacrificing her own.

Despite Danza's progress, it took five months for her parents not to fear the worst each and every day. Her mother explained the daily trips to the hospital were agonizing.

"Every morning I'd drive, feeling nervous and anxious," she said. "My heart raced as I'd hurry across the parking ramp, run to the elevator, sprint through the skyway and quickly scrub up. I was in a panic until I could see her."

The Thompsons brought their daughter home on May 13, 2008, 152 days after her birth.

At 8 pounds 12 ounces, Danza seemed healthy. Yet because she only spent a little over half her gestation in the womb, her organs were far from mature. She was unable to get enough nutrition from a bottle and a feeding tube was inserted into her stomach.


Mealtime was a two-person job, with a feeding taking about 45 minutes. Since Danza needed to eat every 2-1/2 to 3 hours, life revolved around the feedings.

The family also had to be careful having Danza around other people. Because she suffered from chronic lung disease, even the odor of secondhand smoke on a person's clothing caused her breathing difficulties. She also couldn't be near anyone who had been around another sick person.

"She basically lived in a bubble until this past spring," Christa said. "We didn't take her anywhere."

Those who were allowed to enter the Thompson home headed straight to the sink to scrub. Anyone helping care for her had to learn how to handle her oxygen, manage her monitors, know infant CPR and how to feed her through the feeding tube.

Despite all this, Danza continued to grow and develop. At 1 year of age, she weighed 18 pounds and sat up on her own. Regular doctor visits continued to monitor her development.

Now, at a year and a half, the biggest challenge remains with Danza's feedings.

Since Danza spent so much time on a ventilator, she developed a mouth aversion and won't take anything in her mouth, and also throws up a lot when eating by mouth.

The couple recently took Danza to Milwaukee to one of only a few hospitals nationwide that do motility testing.


Through this, it was determined that the nerves in her small intestines are damaged and don't contract properly. According to Christa, there is no way to fix the problem, so the family needs to help Danza learn how to live with the problem.

They say she may learn to keep the food down, or she may always need to get her nutrition through a feeding tube. But doctors assured the Thompsons that Danza can live a normal life even with this condition.

Danza also remains on oxygen due to pulmonary hypertension, but is allowed off at times when her levels are high enough. Her lungs are still developing.

"She has started to walk with my help," Christa proudly reported. "She crawls all over and while she doesn't say any words, she is constantly making noise.

"Developmentally, she is doing great," the mother added. "She is definitely behind on her motor skills, but cognitively she's a little smarty pants.

"Every doctor we've ever met looks at her and tells us how great she's doing and how lucky we are."

But that's something the Thompsons don't need to be told. They know it every time they look at their miracle baby.

Danza's entire story can be found online at .

About Spare Key

Spare Key is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity that provides assistance to Minnesota homeowners with critically ill or seriously injured children by making a mortgage payment on the family's behalf.

It was founded by Patsy and Robb Keech in 1997 after the death of their son, Derian. Born with a genetic birth defect, Derian endured many hospitalizations and numerous surgeries. His parents were torn between wanting and needing to be with their child and going to work to maintain financial stability.

They chose to spend the time with their son. Due to the generosity of family, friends and strangers who raised money to pay their mortgage, the Keechs did not lose their home. In memory of their son, the couple vowed to help other families facing similar situations.

Mortgage payments are made directly to a family's lender on their behalf after all paid leave has been exhausted, or when a child's medical care has resulted in a significant reduction of income or increase in expenses.

Spare Key hit a major milestone this month by reaching $1 million in mortgage payments. Nearly 1,000 Minnesota families have been helped by Spare Key. On average, 15 grant applications are received each month, averaging monthly mortgages of $1,185 per family.

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