Willa Elizabeth Hall was about the size of a bottle of water when she came into the world.
She was 1 pound, 6.4 ounces and 12 inches long.
“She was a footlong,” her dad, Mitch Hall, joked.
Her eyes were still fused shut, and her arms were about the size of her mother’s index finger. Tavish Hall was 26 weeks into her pregnancy when she had Willa by C-section.
Willa was a twin, dubbed “Baby B” in the womb.
Her brother, William Robert, “Baby A,” died in the womb 22 weeks into Tavish’s pregnancy.
The Halls thought they were having twin girls. After the doctor and nurses delivered Willa, Tavish had William. It wasn’t until then that the couple learned they’d been expecting a boy.
That was Oct. 4.
Since then, nurses and doctors have been caring for Willa in the neonatal intensive care unit at Via Christi Hospital on Harry.
On Thursday, she was up to 4 pounds, 12.5 ounces — huge compared with the nearly skeletal baby she was at birth.
The Halls, who live in Anthony, had hoped Willa could come home by Christmas, but she’s still struggling with bottle feeds.
“We postponed my family’s Christmas until she comes home, whenever that is,” Tavish said.
‘Watching over his sister’
The Halls have spent the past few months driving back and forth from Anthony to Wichita.
They already were seeing a doctor in Wichita and planned to have their twins at Via Christi Hospital on St. Teresa.
Tavish was supposed to go in for a regular prenatal visit Oct. 4. But her doctor realized that she was in early labor and sent her to the hospital on Harry, which has a Level III NICU.
She delivered Willa soon after.
“It was just a couple hours, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, which was probably good,” said Tavish, a certified public accountant.
Both 28, Tavish and Mitch recognize they’ve gone through a lot, but say all the ups and downs seem the norm now.
They buried William, who was baptized, at a small family ceremony.
In their blog, anthonyhalls.blogspot.com, Tavish described that day, Oct. 15:
“I was definitely not looking forward to this day,” she wrote. “We weren’t able to go see Willa because we had to bury her brother. Although it still is hard to get over the loss of William, it was good to finally have some closure that he is now in heaven and watching over his sister.”
‘Santa’s Favorite’ gets early Christmas visit
On Thursday, Santa visited all of the premature babies in the NICU on Harry.
Tavish and Mitch Hall couldn’t take Willa out to see Santa, so Santa came to them.
They took pictures of Willa on Santa’s lap and laughed at her tiny little hiccups.
Willa wore a pink onesie declaring her “Santa’s Favorite.”
For a while, Willa was too tiny to wear clothes. Tavish’s mom made her some doll-sized outfits.
The Halls didn’t get to hold their daughter for seven days.
“I felt like I was going to break her,” Tavish said.
Tavish and Mitch, who is a commercial and agricultural loan officer, visit Willa every other day and talk to her nurses several times a day.
They take turns holding their baby.
“But usually, it’s not in my favor,” Mitch joked.
They can’t believe how much their baby has grown.
“She’s filled out considerably,” Mitch said.
Willa, born 14 weeks premature, remains on low-flow oxygen. She gets caffeine to help her remember to breathe and keep her heart rate up. She’s still receiving half of her feedings from a line in her nose.
Katie Fulghum, a charge nurse in the NICU, said “26 weeks is still very scary, and they’re very little.”
Willa, she said, was especially small.
Tavish and Mitch said that looking back, they didn’t realize just how fragile Willa was.
Willa’s crib in the NICU is decorated with pictures of her from the past few weeks. The nurses celebrate milestones, Fulghum said, such as when Willa grew to 2 pounds and then 4 pounds. Most girls don’t like so much focus on their weight, but for Willa, it’s a key factor in getting to go home.
On Dec. 13, Tavish wrote in her blog: “Weighing in at 4 lbs 1.9 oz, the star of ‘Via Christi This Week’ — Willa Elizabeth Hall!”
Via Christi’s newsletter featured Willa in its Dec. 12 issue.
The Halls planned to celebrate Christmas in the NICU.
Tavish is working three-quarter time at her job, saving her maternity leave for when Willa comes home.
Mitch said Willa has a whole crew caring for her at Via Christi.
“She needs us when she gets home,” he said.
They’ve been working on Willa’s nursery, decorated in bright colors, when they can.
Tavish plans to put up a decal in the nursery that says “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”