Fittingly, Blackburns celebrate twins this Mother's Day
After successful procedure, Alicia Blackburn due to deliver two healthy boys this month
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick and Alicia Blackburn couldn't help but note the irony when they found out they were going to have twins.
After all, Nick has spent his entire career with the Twins organization since being drafted by the club in 2001.
But the good-natured laughs about that coincidence began to take a serious turn when Alicia found out there could be complications with her pregnancy.
Alicia, pregnant with identical twin boys sharing a placenta, was told there was a chance the twins could be suffering from a rare condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome or TTTS.
But given the odds -- it only occurs in about one in 4,000 pregnancies and in about 1 in 10 cases involving identical twins -- both Nick and Alicia assumed it wouldn't affect them.
After further testing, however, Alicia was told by her physician that the twins were indeed suffering from TTTS. The Blackburns were in disbelief.
"Once they told me it was identical twins, they mentioned TTTS -- but I didn't really pay attention to it," Alicia said. "The babies always looked healthy to me, so I was kind of in denial that they were sick."
Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome occurs when identical twins who share a common placenta share blood unevenly between their blood-vessel connections.
If left untreated, both babies are lost in about 90 to 98 percent of the cases, according to Dr. Kenneth Moise, the co-director of the Texas Fetal Center at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. But with treatment, there's about a 70-percent chance of taking home two babies and about a 20-percent chance of taking home one baby.
In Alicia's case -- the twins were in Stage 1 of TTTS -- she opted for laser ablation surgery after visiting the Texas Fetal Center three times and speaking with Moise's wife, Karen, who is the lead clinical nurse coordinator there.
"Alicia was no different than the patients we get on an everyday basis," Karen Moise said. "When they call us, they're usually scared and lost when it comes to finding information. We're the ones who can alleviate some of their fear or angst they're having about their unborn babies."
But it was unnerving even for Nick, who has had several operations throughout his playing career -- including surgery in October to remove a bone chip from his right elbow, and another in January on his right wrist.
"It was tough," Nick said. "I've had plenty of times where I was going on the surgery table, and it was never a big deal. But to see her go in there and get prepped up was pretty challenging. It's not easy to wait on somebody who is there in for surgery, especially with what was on the line. You have two precious babies in there."
But Dr. Moise successfully performed the procedure on Valentine's Day, identifying and essentially spot-welding 14 different blood vessels between the two babies and removing excess fluid around one of the twins.
"Alicia's babies weren't that sick, even though one of them had an incredible amount of fluid around it," Dr. Moise said. "But she'll be one of the 70 percent who will take home two healthy babies."
It was a huge relief for the Blackburns, who will be adding babies Nos. 3 and 4 to a household that already includes their daughter, Payton, who will be 3 years old in August, and their son, Easton, who turned 1 in December.
Alicia is due in late May, which is also when Nick will be near the final stages of his throwing program -- with the hope of returning to Minor League game action in June.
Blackburn underwent a rare procedure himself in January, as it took, by his count, about six or seven doctors before he could get his wrist condition properly diagnosed by Dr. Richard Berger at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Dr. Berger performed the wrist surgery, which has only been done on one other big leaguer -- outfielder Jayson Werth in 2005. Blackburn is confident the procedure will help him return to form, after struggling the last three seasons with a combined 5.56 ERA -- after he posted a combined 4.04 ERA in the '08 and '09 seasons.
"Having that surgery was great," Blackburn said. "It gives me hope that there's a career after this year. It was to the point where I wasn't effective, and I thought maybe I ran out of bullets. But to be able to finally get that fixed, that can actually revive what was going on."
Blackburn, though, isn't feeling sorry for himself after rehabbing all winter, as it also gave him the benefit of spending more time at home with Alicia -- especially during her pregnancy scare.
"As strange as it sounds, it was a really big blessing for us," Blackburn said. "I got to spend a lot of extra time with the family this year with the surgeries I did. Alicia and I are both religious and believe everything happens for a reason. The timing of all this was impeccable."
But Blackburn, who was taken off the 40-man roster last year because of his struggles, isn't ready to give up on his goal of returning to the Major Leagues. He knows it's a long shot to return to Minnesota's rotation this year. But he isn't giving up hope, either.
Blackburn is destined to be a free agent after this season -- he signed a four-year, $14-million deal in '10 that included an $8 million option for '14 that will almost certainly be declined -- and wants to prove he can be an effective pitcher after his wrist operation.
"I'm hoping this helps my career out, which in turns helps my family out," Blackburn said. "I want to be a dad and raise my children. But, at the same time, it would be really fun for three boys to grow up around the baseball park. It's a great lifestyle and a great opportunity for my family for me to continue my career. But, at the same time, I'm ready to be a father, too."