At a restaurant on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, Angela Lazarus ate dinner surrounded by friends.
As she walked back to the hotel room, her husband Evan headed to a bar with buddies to celebrate the wedding of his best friend.
Thirty minutes later, Angela Lazarus was in severe pain. Barely 27 weeks into her pregnancy, she was about to give birth to premature twins on an island far away from her New Jersey home and the doctors who had cleared her for travel.
An ambulance arrived and got her to the only hospital on the island.
“I knew this was going to be a problem as soon as I walked in,” Evan Lazarus recalled.
The hospital had no air conditioning or respiratory equipment. Their daughter Sydney was born at 2:30 a.m. on April 8. Serena arrived 25 minutes later.
Both girls were born with immature lungs and weighed about 2 pounds, said Ilene Sosenko, neonatologist at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Holtz Children’s Hospital.
Because of the lack of equipment, the nursing staff in Anguilla had to keep the twins under heat lamps and manually pump air into the girls’ lungs for more than 12 hours, Evan Lazarus said.
With the help of American Express card privileges, the Anguilla hospital coordinated with the family to get Angela and the twins off the island. Their choices were Puerto Rico, Guadaloupe or Miami. Evan Lazarus, a University of Miami alumnus, chose Miami.
On Tuesday, the family, including the twins and their 4 ½-year-old brother headed back to Marlton, N.J., for the first time since April 3.
Getting off the island wasn’t easy. Since the twins were born in Anguilla, that meant they were naturalized British citizens and needed to have Anguillan identification papers to leave the island. A photographer had to go to the hospital to get their pictures for the documents.
For 10 hours, Lazarus made a circuit between the post office, hospital and other government offices in Anguilla to get the twins’ paperwork in order before they left.
Twenty hours after the twins were born, each boarded her own specialized fast-response international natal intensive care planes headed to Miami. A parent accompanied each child.
There was no room on the planes for young Alex, who was still asleep in the hotel when his parents left. Evan Lazarus left him with friends who would bring him to Miami the next day. The couple slept in the room with Alex so that when he woke up, he would see a familiar face.
“No one wants to leave their child,” Evan Lazarus said.
The twins and their parents got to Miami about 1 a.m. April 9, less than 24 hours after their birth.
He said he and his wife were frantic and didn’t sleep well for a few nights, but that JMH’s medical care put them at ease. Through the constant care of the doctors, the girls now weigh 5 pounds each, and their development is on track for preemies at this point. Once things calm down, Angela Lazarus said she plans to make the girls dual citizens of Anguilla and the United States.
Evan Lazarus said he is proud of his wife for handling the process so well.
“She’s a rock,” he said.
On Tuesday, Lazarus thanked everyone who helped get his wife and babies to Miami.
“We have a lot of cellphone bills to cover,” he said.