From the NICU to college graduation

Patient Stories |

06/11/2024

Gabe and Olivia Rowles

Preemie twins Gabe and Olivia Rowles spent months in the hospital, but 22 years later, they are proud college graduates.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Twenty-two years ago, a young mom didn’t dare contemplate the day that her twins might graduate from high school, much less college.

She prayed for one more month, one more day, one more hour with her babies, born prematurely at 27 weeks in 2002.

Gabe and Olivia Rowles

But those babies did graduate from high school, then college last month, and Amy McAbee wanted to share that good news with all those at Riley Children’s Health who had a hand in caring for Gabriel and Olivia Rowles, born four minutes apart and each weighing 2 pounds that July day more than two decades ago.

The twins were featured in a Riley Messenger story many years ago, and McAbee photographed them holding that article as they celebrated their college graduations – Olivia from Trine University and Gabe from IU East.

“I am forever grateful for every single day I have with these kids,” said McAbee, who works in radiology at IU Health Jay Hospital in Portland, Indiana. “I am so thankful for all of the medical staff who cared for them, for family and friends who stepped in to help with all the kids, and for every single prayer.”

McAbee, who also has two older children – Lexie, a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Cancer Center, and Luke, who works for UKG – said she has been blessed with “the four most incredible humans.”

The younger two had a rougher start in life. Olivia, who was hospitalized in the Riley NICU for about nine weeks, battled apnea and bradycardia as she continued to grow in the hospital. But Gabe was born with a serious heart defect and underwent multiple surgeries by Dr. John Brown – “our hero” – McAbee said.

Gabe, who remained at Riley for the first nine months of his life, continues to see Riley cardiologist Dr. Robert Darragh. In time, he may require a heart and/or liver transplant, his mom said.

Just the fact that he’s here though is a miracle, she added. It wasn’t just the heart condition. He also suffered necrotizing enterocolitis, a potentially fatal complication that required doctors to perform surgery at the bedside to remove a portion of his intestine.

“We had lots and lots of scary moments, times when they told us to call the rest of the family back to the hospital. Medically, it doesn’t make sense for him to be here, after all that happened, but he’s just meant to be here.”

That’s due in no small part to the team at Riley, many of whom she keeps in touch with, McAbee said.

“They are amazing. I cannot praise them enough. All those beautiful nurses who took care of them, Nancy, who did their echos (and took their high school senior pictures), Susan, who does Gabe’s EKGs and stress tests.”

And so many more, she said.

All in all, it was a terrifying start, “but what they have accomplished is nothing short of a miracle.”

McAbee recalls how her arms were marked with bruises from the incubators as she reached in through the holes to be close to her twins day and night.

And now they are all grown up.

Olivia, who lives near her mom and stepdad, Tyler McAbee, plans to continue her education with a master’s in criminal justice, while Gabe, who lives at home, intends to focus on creating art.

“They are an incredibly inspirational success story,” McAbee said, adding, “It is humbling to be their mom.”

Related Doctor

related doctor headshot photo

Robert K. Darragh, MD, FACC, FAAP

Pediatric Cardiology

related doctor headshot photo

John W. Brown, MD

Transplant Surgery