Courageous Parents Who Refused to Abort Win Christian Life Award

( [email protected] ) Jul 08, 2014 06:26 PM EDT
Dave and Kristi Eskelund's story is one of extreme courage and commitment to their faith, as they refused to abort their conjoined baby girls despite the high risk the pregnancy entailed. In honor of their story, the couple was awarded the Walker Journalism Award, a prestigious honor to encourage Christians to spread their message.
The Eskelund family in 2013

What should have been a joyous time for Kristi and Dave Eskelund was instead one of fear and confusion.

Doctors told the young parents that their unborn twin girls were conjoined at the abdomen, and possibly shared a heart. The pregnancy, they were told, was an "off-the-chart risk." While the babies had a 60 percent chance of surviving birth, their future was unsure.

Because of the high risk, doctors urged the devastated parents to terminate the pregnancy, saying it was the "best course of action." Many children who are born stillborn die shortly after birth; the survival rate is only between 5 and 25 percent.

However, after much prayer, Kristi chose to go through with the pregnancy: "To me it has always been really clear that aborting the child is taking a life. I was honestly more afraid of that than whatever I might deliver. ... The only thing I could bank on was living with my own choices. And I knew that whatever I did next, I was going to have to look it in the face every single day of my life," she told WORLD Magazine.

The pair met with dozens of doctors and specialists at Chapel Hill Hospital at the University of North Carolina. Yet doctors were still unable to discern whether the girls had single or a conjoined heart. Kristi and Dave prayed the twins would survive to the delivery.

On Jan. 10, 2001, Kristi gave birth by cesarean section. As the medical team took the babies to NICU for treatment, doctors gave parents some good news: the girls did not share a heart, making a separation procedure possible.

Following the baby's separation, the Eskelunds named the stronger baby Lydia Joy, because Lydia was a strong woman in the Bible. They called the sicker baby Anneka, the Scandinavian derivative of Hannah, with the middle name Mercy.

"It was sort of Hannah's same situation, where, if we have this child, Lord, we're going to put her in Your hands, and we're going to put her in Your mercy. ... We knew her life would be a mercy," said Kristi.

The successful separation surgery was followed by a long recovery; Lydia grew stronger, while Anneka became weaker. Lydia was discharged, though she still lived at the hospital with her mother. Anneka had more surgeries, and doctors told the Eskelunds she wasn't going to live for long.

"It was such a precious, quiet realization for me and for a lot of us that every single day matters," Kristi said. "There was a sweetness about living every single day with her at the bedside and that we knew we weren't going to have very many of them. There was kind of this letting go."

Six months after delivery, Anneka Mercy went home to her savior, surrounded by her parents and the team of doctors who had become like family to the Eskelunds.

Today, Lydia is a normal, healthy 12 year old, and the Eskelunds are still close friends with some of the surgeons who worked on Lydia and Anneka. Kristi encourages women considering abortion to remember that doctors often give the worst case scenario. Although they are sometimes right, Kristi says God is able to work incredible miracles.

"I would do it all again. I really would," she says.

The Eskelunds' courageous story caught the attention of Christians worldwide, even winning the $5,000 first-place prize in Christian Life Missions' inaugural presentation of the Walker Journalism Award, a prestigious honor that encourages students to use the media to articulate the Christian message.

"When people see you completely live out your convictions, and really put your money where your mouth is, it lends a lot of authenticity to your ability to speak the gospel message," said Kristi.

Six years ago, she birth to a healthy baby boy she named Jesse, who she calls her "Job 42" baby, as the Lord remains faithful even through the darkest of times.

"Being able to really rejoice in the situation after all the grief. ... It was so much of a coming-full-circle experience for me," she says.