Siblings share a special connection, even more so when they are twins. The bond between them is usually one of mutual comfort, joy, tranquility, consolation, and love. But this was taken from a child in a cruel twist of fate.
Walker Myrick was destined to come into this world with his twin, Willis, on the night of March 6, 2007. But Willis had already passed away in the womb.
It turned out that the twins’ mother, Brooke Myrick of Florence, Alabama, had suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a rare and potentially fatal condition for both fetuses.
In TTTS, twin fetuses share a placenta and a network of blood vessels, so they receive an unequal amount of essential nutrients, resulting in one or both children not getting the proper nutrients they need to survive. The condition affects approximately 15% of identical twins sharing a placenta, or 4,500 cases of TTTS per year in the US.
“I had never heard of it, and I actually didn’t even know we should get tested,” said Brooke, the twins’ mother. “Every time we went in, everything was fine, so I had the mindset that I’m going to have two healthy babies.”
“He was 24 weeks old when we found out, but they said at least a week had passed, so we don’t really know when Willis passed away,” she added.
After his tragic loss, Walker would go on with his life and despite never having met his twin, he has never forgotten his brother.
“It’s just one of those things,” Brooke told Today. “I really think he will always have a connection with his brother.”
Walker constantly asked his mother to visit Willis’s grave, and it was during one of these visits that Brooke captured a heartbreaking but beautiful image.
Brooke told PEOPLE that after Walker’s first day of kindergarten in 2012, she asked if they could visit Willis’ grave. When they arrived, Walker ran out of the car before his mother could prepare his youngest daughter, who was still a baby at the time. When she got to him, she saw him sitting with his back against his brother’s headstone. Moved by the image, she snapped a photo. She explained:
“I parked and he ran ahead while I was untying his little brother from the car seat. All he had with me was my iPhone. I wasn’t anticipating taking a picture. But when I got up close and saw it like this, it was one of those moments where you think, ‘This is really special.'”
Walker told his mother that he wanted some quiet time alone with his brother, and when she finished, Brooke said “he was all smiles.”
“He just wanted to sit there and, I think, feel that connection,” she continued. “He told us that he just wanted to tell his brother about school.”
While Brooke said she “struggled for several years” after the loss of Willis, she helped her and her husband’s decision to be open with Walker and her other three children of hers about Willis.
“Even when he was a baby, he would always tell him about Willis and he would smile,” Brooke said, adding, “At 1 or 2 years old, he would run to the grave. We’d say, ‘That’s your brother. That’s where your twin brother is. Because he always wanted me to know where he was going. She always wanted her to know that this was an open area of her life and that she didn’t grow up thinking, ‘I can’t talk about my brother.
Both mother and son are now determined to spread the word about TTTS and hold the “Walker and Willis Birthday Walk to Fight TTTS” every year to raise money for the TTTS Foundation.
“We weren’t screened for it, our doctor didn’t refer us to a specialist or even knew my children were identical and shared a placenta,” Brooke told The Mirror. “We fight for awareness due to the lack of knowledge that our doctor had about this disease.”
Whose idea was it in the first place, Brooke said it was all Walker’s.
“We had gone on a fundraiser walk and on the way home she asked, ‘Can we have a walk?’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe when you’re older. We’re so busy.’ I kind of wrote it off. Then she was like, ‘I want to do it for my birthday,’ so of course I couldn’t say no. He said, ‘I want to raise some money for my brother,'” Brooke said.
“At a certain stage of pregnancy, they can detect TTTS through ultrasound. So one of the main things is for women to understand that if you’re pregnant with twins, you need weekly ultrasounds because it happens so fast.”
Meanwhile, Walker continued to visit his brother and told his mother that she sometimes had dreams about him too. “Walker has a drive to make sure Willis is never forgotten. Willis really lives through Walker, and I think he takes care of him,” said Brooke.