Premature twin's courageous fight for life leaves lasting legacy

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Eric LeVon Frazier II, one of two premature twins born Sept. 6 to Tech. Sgt. Barry Frazier and his wife Mandy, died Dec. 10 at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital - but his courageous fight for life left a lasting legacy that will stay with the family forever.

With a due date of Jan. 1, Eric and his twin sister Alexis were born at just 23 weeks and three days gestation period. Eric weighed 1 pound, 5 ounces at birth, and his sister was 1 pound, 3 ounces.

Being born so prematurely meant both babies had severe medical problems, and the doctors and nurses on the neonatal intensive care unit worked around the clock trying to save them. Alexis had heart surgery in October at a London hospital. While Eric wasn't in as great of a need of the same surgery when his sister underwent hers, various reasons prevented him from having the same surgery at a later date.

"Eric's final illness was one which we see only with premature babies," wrote Dr. David Booth, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Department of Paediatrics, consultant neonatologist, in an e-mail. "It's very serious and can strike many weeks after the birth of the baby.

"It's a terrible tragedy for Eric's parents and his sister that he overcome so many difficulties earlier on only to succumb much later," the British doctor said.

He kept having heart failure, and the doctors had to keep restarting his heart. When it became clear that the baby boy was getting weaker, the medical staff asked the parents if they wanted to be with him and hold him for his last few hours.

"Right before he took his last breath, he opened his eyes and stared right at me with this look in his eyes, like he was saying, 'I just can't do this anymore - it's too hard Daddy ... '" said Sergeant Frazier, 100th Air Refueling Wing Legal Office, recounting his baby son's last moments in his wife's arms, as a tear rolled down his face.

It's often said twins have a special bond and feel each other's emotions or pain, and Sergeant Frazier said he really believes that to be true.

"At the exact moment Eric passed away, Alexis started respiratory problems," he said. "When we were sitting with her brother, a nurse came in and told us that she didn't want to panic us, but Alexis had started having breathing difficulties right at that same time."

Luckily, she was fine within a short while.

"There's no way it was just coincidence; I know she felt it," he said, adding that as she grows up, his daughter will always know about her twin brother. "There'll always be a photograph of him either in her room or on her person."

The couple said they are coping with the situation, but it's been tough.

"We've had to put on the appearance that everything is all right, but underneath the surface it's a whole different story," the sergeant said. "We've gone through so many emotions, but we're trying to stay as positive as possible, so we keep all our memories of Eric positive."

After Eric died, the family received a call from the wing chaplain, offering them grief counseling. However, Sergeant Frazier said while they appreciate it being offered, they just aren't ready for counseling yet.

The family wanted to have Eric's funeral service at home in North Carolina, and Sergeant Frazier said his first sergeant and coworkers have been completely supportive. He also said they received a huge amount of help from mortuary affairs at RAF Mildenhall.

"It was the first time in my life I wasn't completely in control of the situation," said Sergeant Frazier. "Mortuary affairs asked us a few questions, and then took over all the arrangements. They made sure we had everything we needed - both getting us back to the states, and having my son transported to Landstuhl before having him taken to North Carolina."

Mortuary affairs act as a liaison between families and Air Force agencies to coordinate with funeral homes in arranging mortuary services.

"It's tragic when a death occurs, and even more so when it's a child," said Master Sgt. Pablo Ramirez-Carlos, 100th Force Support Squadron Plans and Readiness NCOIC. "The Mortuary Programs goal is to assist all surviving family members with the mortuary process, so they can concentrate on grieving and supporting each other through this difficult time."

Though none of his family had seen the twins in person, Sergeant Frazier said they were all at the Dec. 20 funeral along with his wife's brother, who flew in from Colorado.

"Usually, my family doesn't show a lot of emotion - we've been brought up not to do that - but my whole family was bawling with tears," said Barry. "As we turned to everyone to thank them for coming to the church, everyone was just openly crying their eyes out. We hugged them all; it was like we were comforting them. My son's life and his death meant a lot to everyone - I just didn't know how much until that moment."

On the morning of Dec. 10, before Eric's passing, one of the nurses at the hospital had spoken to his parents and told them how special they thought he was, how much he had touched everyone's hearts, and how he had just hung in there.

"Eric faced some very difficult challenges and his parents faced them with him every day of his short life," Dr. Booth said. "Their courage and their love for him were very clear to see."

Despite his loss, Eric's memory will live on.

"The doctors told us, 'he fought with all his heart' - that's his legacy," Sergeant Frazier said. "He taught us to fight and never give up. As my kids grow up, they will both know how hard their brother fought. I'm going to teach them that there's nothing they can't do, as long as they have the will to do it ... And we're going to teach them to love until there's nothing else to give."

"That's what we had put on his gravestone - 'He fought with all his heart'. But it turned out that was the only thing he couldn't control."

Editor's note: Eric's twin sister, Alexis, is getting stronger by the day. She now weighs 5 pounds, 8 ounces (as of Jan. 9) and is finally home with her family.