Community Papers

A legacy is born six decades later

Isabel Vroom (seated), and children Richard Vroom, Judy Huska, and Peggy Christian listen to nurse Rebecca Mount explain how the Leoni ventilator helps tiny patients breathe. - Photo contributed/RCHF
Isabel Vroom (seated), and children Richard Vroom, Judy Huska, and Peggy Christian listen to nurse Rebecca Mount explain how the Leoni ventilator helps tiny patients breathe.
— image credit: Photo contributed/RCHF

Twins that died shortly after birth 61 years ago have left a cross-country legacy at Royal Columbian Hospital.

The rebirth of their story began three years ago.

Anglican minister Richard Vroom was called to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Ottawa. A teenage Inuit couple from Nunavut and their families wanted Richard to baptize baby E.J. He had been born prematurely but his survival was in doubt.

A few weeks later Richard returned to offer prayers when it was apparent the tiny infant wasn't going to make it. The young parents, about 15 or 16 years old, were having trouble coping and asked Richard to hold the baby. He did, for about 40 minutes, and at some point during that time E.J. died.

"It was a remarkable experience," said Richard.

Holding E.J. reminded him of the family's twins who had died following a premature birth nearly six decades earlier.

Christine and Michael Vroom were born June 10, 1953 in Pembroke, Ont., about six to eight weeks before mother Isabel Vroom was due. Christine died hours after the birth and Michael a few days later.

"I started to think about the twins," said Richard. "I wanted to find our more about them … They became real. They became a real brother and sister."

He delved into the Anglican church records and found their baptismal certificates. He made copies for the family, which includes his sisters Judy and Peggy. All three were born before the twins.

A little while later Richard visited his parents in Victoria and talked to them about Christine and Michael. His father Robert said they should do something in their wills to honour the twins. But since he was a chartered accountant in a previous career, Richard said "Why not now?"

So 60 years after the twins were born, Robert and Isabel donated $26,000 to CHEO for a neonatal transport monitor, the kind of technology that might have saved E.J.'s life, and $32,000 to Pembroke Regional Hospital for a fetal heart monitor.

Since he and Isabel had made their home out west after Robert retired following a nomadic career in the air force, they decided they wanted to do something for B.C. as well. They chose Royal Columbian because a relative had gone there for nurse's training in the early 1930s. They offered to donate nearly $62,000 for a ventilator for premature babies.

Robert died just five days after the ceremonies for the two Ontario donations were made last year.

"It was his idea to make it work. Without him it wouldn't have happened," said Richard. "He knew that it had been done, and he knew this one (at RCH) had been organized."

The equipment could have saved Christine and Michael had it been available 60 years ago. But that knowledge doesn't make Isabel bitter.

"I knew they would not live, and I was relieved that God had taken them," said Isabel on a family visit to RCH's NICU Thursday. "I miss them, but the Lord was there and had them in his hands.

"It was better that they were young, in my opinion."

Her daughter Judy, though, has certainly wondered if technology would have made a difference. She became a nurse in the early ’70s and worked with sick babies. The thought that even that generation's medical equipment might have saved her siblings popped into her head often.

When Robert first called the RCH Foundation to make the donation, campaign director Barbara Becker offered to help raise some of the money because he might be suffering from sticker shock. But Robert insisted on paying the entire cost.

"We were just so grateful. We called (NICU manager Queenie Lai) and she was just dancing," said Becker.

RCH perinatal program manager Elizabeth White said, "We have such a need for equipment this is fabulous. We had a tiny baby born at 27 weeks that would not be alive without the ventilator."

The equipment they donated in Ontario has already made a difference there, too.

"The legacy of the twins is huge," said Richard. "To make a difference in the lives of families—mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters—it's not just babies. It also keeps the memory of Christine and Michael alive."

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