13/12/2012 07:17 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

'China Doll' Twins So Fragile A Cuddle From Parents Could Break Their Bones

'China Doll' twins so fragile a cuddle from parents could break their bones Caters

A cuddle with our kids is one of the greatest pleasures of being a parent – and one that most of us take for granted.

But a hug for twins Amy and Ava Cowan from their mum and dad is out of the question – for the five-month-old twin sisters have a rare condition that means even a cuddle could break their bones.

The little girls have been dubbed 'China Dolls' because they are so fragile. In their first week after being born, they suffered 12 broken bones between them - and it's heartbreaking for their parents Charmaine and John.

The girls, from Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, were born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta - otherwise known as brittle bones. OI sufferers can repeatedly break their bones, and may experience several hundred fractures throughout their lifetime. The condition affects just 1 in 15,000 people in the UK.

The twins' mother, Charmaine, said: "The girls are so delicate that however gentle we are with them they're bound to break something.

"In one of the first X-rays we had after they were born the results showed they had 12 broken bones between them. I just couldn't believe it - they'd barely moved!

"It's heartbreaking because I hate to see my girls in pain, but the slightest knock can mean a break."

Charmaine, 29, and husband John, 30, have to be extra careful with their tiny daughters, because even rocking them in their arms could break their ribs.

"When they were first born, whenever I'd hold the girls I'd place them on support cushions, and to feed them I'd rest them on pillows," Charmaine said.

"I would only dress them in romper suits with velcro fastenings so I could slip their clothes on and off quickly. I was so scared that I'd hurt them, everything was a struggle.


One day I was bathing Ava gently under her arm when I felt it go limp. I froze and shouted out to my husband - I'd just broken her arm. We rushed to Ava to hospital, but we were only back from the hospital for five minutes when Amy had broken her leg by wriggling in her cot.


"It was only a couple of days later when Ava broke her ribs by fighting against her blankets in her cot.

"It was my first experience of the girls breaking their bones at home, and I just had no idea how I was going to be able to handle it."

Charmaine was just 23 weeks pregnant when she was told her children would be born with health problems.

"We were told that the girls could be born with skeletal dysplasia, and it was very likely that they could be deformed," she said.

"There are 500 types of skeletal dysplasia, so we couldn't be 100 per cent sure what they would look like, or what would be wrong with them, but we were advised to terminate the pregnancy.

"It was absolutely devastating. It was explained that the girls would be injected in the heart to terminate the pregnancy. We were in two minds about what to do until I had a 4D scan.

"As soon as I saw their perfect little faces I knew there was no way I could have an abortion. They were my little girls, and I'd love them no matter what."

Since the girls were born in June, their special needs have been a learning curve for the family.

Charmaine said: "My other children, Sophia, four, Kaelan, two, and Airan, one, don't really understand why they have to be so careful with their younger sisters, but they're learning to be very, very gentle.

"We have to make sure they all play quietly together, because if Amy and Ava get startled, and wake up with a fright, even that could break their bones.

"As they've got older I'm much more confident with them. You just have to be so careful.

"I do worry about what the future holds but I will never regret my decision to have my beautiful baby girls. I know they're fighters and they already have a high pain threshold."