Monday, April 09, 2007


Part of me died 29 years ago today. And even though I never knew her, I think about her nearly every day, and can't help but wonder "what if."

Go with me back to the late winter of 1978. A 24-year-old Halls woman knows something is amiss early that Monday morning. She can't quite figure it out. She'd worked that past Friday, didn't think anything was out of the ordinary.

But something was wrong.

Finally, she wakes her husband, asks him to drive her to Fort Sanders Hospital. She's only 6 and 1/2 months pregnant, but sure enough, labor sets in.

At 6:05 a.m., she and her husband are parents of a brand new baby boy. Two pounds and 13 ounces. He'll have to spend the next six weeks in an incubator. He has a heart murmur, too, but otherwise is fine.

The doctor comes back with a surprise.

"You have twins. We're going to induce the other child."

Judith Allison was born later that morning. Unlike her brother, she had a bunch of problems. Multiple blood transfusions were needed. Later, doctors will discover a hole in her heart, leaking blood from the upper chamber to the lower.

She had bright red hair, no doubt thanks to her grandfather Kenneth, and a sweet little face. She barely weighed 2 pounds.

Allison is transported to UT. One day the nurse asks her mother if she'd like to hold her. It means taking her off her respirator.

Her mother begs off, doesn't feel good about it. But the nurse says it will be OK. Allison soon begins gasping for breath, is finally put back on the respirator. Later that year, the nurse will write Allison's mother a heart-felt letter, apologizing for her error.

Her brother continued to do well. But Allison struggled. Surgery was scheduled that next Monday to repair the hole in her heart.

The operation was never performed.

Judith Allison died on April 9, 1978. The official cause of death was premature birth, complicated by the hole in her heart. She's buried in Greenwood Cemetery on Tazewell Pike, a literal stone's throw from her cousin, Josh Ellis.

Allison left her family with a hole in our hearts. I often wonder what life would have been like with her here, and whether the saying is true that a surviving twin takes on the other sibling's life.

If it is, I hope I've lived up to the task.


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