By Michael C. Spearing
STATE COLLEGE, PA: Some people call John and Alan Kunig of Pennsylvania Furnace "miracle babies." The Pennsylvania Elks Home Service Program see them as "Children of the Year."
The Elks recognized the three-year-old twins a recent press conference in District Justice Brad Lunsford's courtroom on West College Avenue.
While Jack Orlandi, Exalted Ruler of State College Lodge 1600 spoke, John and Alan and their brother and sister, Josh and Sierra, availed themselves of all useable furniture within striking distance to make toy car highways, mountains to climb and sliding boards to slide on.
Born on June 15, 1998, Alan and John are twin sons of Andrea Murray and Glenn Kunig of Pennsylvania Furnace. They were born about 14 weeks premature due to a placental condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.
Orlandi said the Pennsylvania Elks Home Service visiting nurse for Centre County, Karen Kay McKalips, was the driving force behind the children's selection out of the hundreds of deserving youngsters.
"Karen lobbied for them at the state level," Orlandi said. "She told them she thought it was about time State College recognized that these disabilities exist, and when they asked her, 'Do you have anyone in mind?' she said, 'I sure do.' That's how it happened."
According to the Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome Foundation, located in Bay Village, Ohio, TTTS affects identical twins during pregnancy when blood passes disproportionately from one baby to the other through connecting blood vessels within their shared placenta.
As a result, one baby gets too much blood, overloading the cardiovascular system, and may die from heart failure. The other baby gets too little blood and may die from anemia.
The babies themselves are normal. The abnormalities are in the placenta, but numerous problems result from the condition.
"Alan was 11 inches long and weighed 1 pound 21/2 ounces when he was born," Andrea Murray said. "John was 14 inches long and weighed 2 pounds 3 ounces."
She said John was born with cardiac problems and Alan with a host of conditions. Both boys are doing well now, Murray said, and she is especially pleased that the prognosis for Alan and John remains very good, even though the cost was staggering.
"John was in the hospital for 95 days and his care cost $600,000, and Alan was in for 195 days and cost about $1.3 million," she said. "Getting all those bills was so stressful. We got stacks and stacks of them."
She said a pleasant surprise came from the doctors and hospitals.
"One day out of the blue, they (the billing office) called us and said, 'We know how hard you've tried,' and then they wrote it off."
Orlandi said Wednesday's event was in recognition of the twins and their indomitable spirit. He said he thought McKalips had it right when she wrote, "Even though they were so tiny you could hold them in your hand, they had a huge will to live. It wasn't the size of the children, but the determination in their hearts that made these little boys survive."
Reprinted with permission from the Centre Daily Times. (The Centre Daily Times is online at www.centredaily.com.)