In October 2016 in southern Brazil, pregnant 21-year-old Frankielen da Silva Zampoli Padilha was rushed to hospital with severe head pain. Yet despite the best efforts of her husband, she passed out during the journey there and died three days later, having suffered a stroke. However, her doctors then devised an incredible plan to try to save her unborn twins.
Back in 2010 Frankielen married her childhood sweetheart Muriel Padilha, who works as a farmer. Those six years together saw the birth of their daughter, Isa Beatriz, and the announcement of another pregnancy. Nine weeks into that pregnancy, though, Muriel received a worrying phone call from his wife.
“I was on my way to work last October when Frankielen called begging me to come back home urgently,” the 24-year-old told the Daily Mail. “She said her head was killing her. I told her to take a tablet.”
“But she said there was a sharp pain at the back of her neck, and it was so strong she felt she was going to collapse,” he added. So the concerned husband subsequently rushed back to his house to help, only to find Frankielen’s condition had worsened. Due to the intense pain of her headache, in fact, the 21-year-old was dizzy and vomiting.
While en route to the hospital, Frankielen tried to prepare her husband for the worst. “As I drove her to hospital, she said, ‘I want you to be prepared to accept this because I will be staying there, I won’t be coming home’,” Muriel recalled. “Then she passed out, and those were the last words she spoke to me and the last time I saw her alive.”
The 21-year-old was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage by doctors when she arrived at the Nosso Senhora do Rocio hospital. She’d suffered severe bleeding on the brain as a result of a burst artery. Doctors consequently conducted a number of tests and scans in a desperate effort to save her life. Three days later, however, Frankielen was declared brain dead, with little hope held for the survival of her unborn twins.
“They told me they would give the babies three more days of life, because they had given my wife multiple CT scans, sedated her with powerful drugs and pumped her full of antibiotics. And this meant everything had ended up in our babies,” Muriel explained. “They said as soon as their little hearts stopped beating, they would turn off the gadgets and I would be able to bury my wife.”
Yet despite this gloomy prognosis, later tests revealed that the twins were still alive in their mother’s womb. “We did an ultrasound on the embryos, thinking they would be failing in the womb, but to our surprise they were clinging to life,” Dr. Dalton Rivabem subsequently told The Sun.
“Frankielen’s organs were all intact and working as if she was still with us,” added Dr. Rivabem, the head of neurological intensive care at the hospital. “We took the decision to keep her alive to save her unborn children, and every day we watched them grow normally.”
The doctors at the hospital were subsequently tasked with monitoring Frankielen’s body, administering medication and keeping an eye on her blood pressure. Meanwhile, other members of staff on the ward developed what would become a daily routine, starting with the decoration of the 21-year-old’s bedside.
While Dr. Rivabem worked with a Portuguese colleague who’d dealt with a very similar case in the past, other staff also played their part. Led by chaplain Erika Checan, they constantly talked and sang to Frankielen’s unborn twins. “We found children’s songs and played them to the babies in the womb,” Checan told the Daily Mail.
“We even made up tunes exclusively for them,” she continued. “And we decorated the area around Frankielen’s bed. The ICU was filled with love, affection and encouragement for the babies and their family to succeed. We said, ‘We love you,’ every day they were here.”
And 123 days after Frankielen had been declared brain dead, the twins were successfully delivered by an emergency cesarean section. Baby Ana Vitoria weighed in at 3 pounds and 1 ounce, while her brother Asaph was 3 pounds exactly. The pair were subsequently kept in incubators for the next three months, and their physical condition proved to be similar to other premature babies.
“The success of this case was down to great teamwork and, of course, to a divine purpose,” said Dr. Rivabem after the birth. And the doctor admitted that he and all his staff were left in tears when the twins were born.
After three months in incubation, the babies were subsequently released into the care of Muriel and his mother-in-law, Angela Silva. While the pair continue to mourn the loss of Frankielen, Angela remains proud of her daughter, hailing Frankielen as a “warrior.”
“It’s been hard losing her but she was a warrior right until the end, protecting her beautiful children and giving them life until the day she finally died,” Angela told The Sun. Following the twins’ birth back in February, Frankielen’s ventilator had subsequently been switched off.
However, Muriel claims to have been visited by his wife several times since her death. “Frankielen has appeared to me on many occasions, especially when I was despairing and crying out for God to bring her back to me,” the 24-year-old told the Daily Mail.
He added, “One night she sat on my bed and said, ‘Baby I can’t come back to you anymore. I must stay. I am in a beautiful place now. You’ve got a big mission still to complete. You have to look after our children and you have to be strong and move on and live your life.’”
While the family endured an unimaginably difficult time, well-wishers across Brazil raised thousands of pounds in support. And many of those kind people also donated baby clothes and nappies, with Muriel using the resulting funds to renovate his family’s house.
Tragedy struck 13 months ago for both Frankielen da Silva Zampoli Padilha and her husband Muriel. Out of that tragedy, however, a miracle happened. The twins may never get to know their mother, but they’ll most certainly be told of her fight to see them born.