Lakeland, Fla. – It’s a sentence no parent ever wants to hear from a doctor when they are staring at their newborn child behind a glass partition in a neonatal intensive care unit.
“Listen, this situation, we can’t guarantee you it’s going to go well.”
James and Jessica McCann heard this sentence way too often the past couple of months. Jessica gave birth to twin boys — Christian and Kane — on Dec. 6, nine and a half weeks before her due date. They weighed three pounds. None of the doctors and nurses at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville were making any grand promises.
James and Jessica, undaunted, clung tightly to their faith.
“The doctor would come in and say, ‘Hey, we can’t guarantee you it’s going to go well,’ and every time both of the boys would kind of open up their eyes at the doctor,” said James McCann. “The doctor just said, ‘We don’t know how they are responding the way they are, but it’s pretty special what they’re doing.’
“We joked that it’s because you don’t know what kind of genes those two boys got from their mom and me.”
Christian and Kane are fighters. They spent the first seven weeks of their lives in the NICU. But on Jan. 26, the day before James, the Tigers starting catcher, was supposed to head north for Tigerfest, the McCanns finally got to take their babies home.
“Other than being premature – they were born at 30 weeks – they were healthy and they had about as smooth a stay as they could’ve possibly had in a NICU,” McCann said. “It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t how you draw things up, by any means. But every time you start to feel sorry for yourself or you start to get run down by the situation, you look around at what other babies are going through in the NICU and what their families are dealing with.
“We have two healthy boys; we couldn’t be more blessed.”
James and Jessica knew early in the pregnancy that there could be some high-risk complications and they expected the twins to be born early – but at 30 weeks?
“No way did we expect them to come as early as they did,” James said.
Had the pregnancy gone full term, the twins would have been born Sunday, the day before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Now, after seven agonizing and at times terrifying weeks in the hospital, the McCanns are packing up the twins and driving from Nashville to Lakeland Sunday night.
They got the go-ahead for the babies to travel on Wednesday.
“We had the follow-up with the pediatrician on Monday and everything looked good but they wanted to make sure the boys gained the proper weight,” James said. “We went back on Wednesday. We brought them home on the 26th (of January), and in a nine-day period since then both gained eight ounces and grew two inches.
“It’s phenomenal they are doing what they are doing and we pray it continues at this rate.”
That the McCanns were in Nashville in the first place is another part of their saga. They sold their place in Fayettville, Ark., and bought a house in Nashville before Thanksgiving.
“Yeah, throw all that into the equation, too,” James said. “We literally closed on our house, had Thanksgiving and the boys were born, what, a week and a half later? As I am sitting here today, there is still no dining room table and we still don’t have the house put together.
“But, we have a new house and two little boys.”
The early months of the pregnancy had been presided over by doctors at University of Michigan Hospital, whom Jessica had become very comfortable with. Moving the pre-natal care to Vanderbilt caused another ripple of stress initially.
But, as James said, it turned out to be another blessing.
“I can’t say enough good things about Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital,” he said. “We didn’t run into one employee there who rubbed us the wrong way. Our nurses were phenomenal and all the doctors were great.”
So now, finally, McCann can turn his thoughts to the upcoming baseball season. Last month, in between trips to the hospital, he avoided arbitration by signing a one-year contract worth $2.375 million.
“I joked with Jessica that I can’t wait for spring training; I will actually get more sleep,” he said.
He’s already had a long, two-hour talk with pitching coach Chris Bosio and he’s talked at length to manager Ron Gardenhire. And, amazingly, he will arrive in Lakeland on Monday in superb physical condition.
“Honestly, give credit to my wife,” McCann said. “Other than the day the twins were born and maybe one or two other days with the doctors or some other logistical issue, I didn’t miss a single workout this off-season. I was able to work out in the morning and head up to the hospital in the afternoon.
“It made for really long days but for my wife at the hospital, they were even longer for her. I was able to continue my normal workout routine. I didn’t miss a thing.”
Jessica McCann goes straight into the baseball wives hall of fame.
“What she’s been through this off-season – I don’t think I’d ever want to go through what she went through,” James said.
Christian and Kane are healthy and gaining strength by the day. The McCanns have been told they are not completely out of the woods just yet. Typically with premature babies, if their growth continues to progress through four to six months, by age two their growth levels tend to catch up with children born after full-term pregnancies.
For now, as they pack the twins into the back of the car for what should be a very happy 11-hour drive, the McCanns can’t help but feel like their faith has been rewarded.
“We’re at a very good place with the babies,” James said. “I really do think God was looking out, especially for these two little guys.”