Ronald and Donald Nystrom (1936-1936)

“Two-pound twin sons of Mr. and Mrs. Swan Nystrom of Oakland, Neb., born seven days ago, are given a 50-50 chance to survive at University hospital where they are in the incubator. Ronald and Miss Blanche Bickel are shown watching Donald get mid-morning nourishment helped by Nurse Murtle Grande.” Omaha World Herald, Saturday, March 7, 1936, page 29.

On Tuesday, February 18, 1936 my grandmother, Rose Carlson Nystrom, gave birth to premature twin boys, Ronald and Donald. Each weighed 2 pounds 12 ounces at birth. The Lincoln Star reported that they were born in the presence of a doctor, and Mrs. Marian Wetzel, acting Red Cross nurse.

Perhaps because she already had seven children, the oldest being 12, mother and sons were cared for at the home of a neighbor, Albert Swanson. Add to that, schools had been closed all week so the kids would have been constantly underfoot! The month of February had been extremely cold and snowy, with drifts up to 12 feet. Roads were closed and people were using teams of horses to get around. Some people had been stranded in farm houses for days and even weeks.

“As in the case of the famous Dionne quintuplets, an oxygen tent is used and they are fed by means of an eye dropper.” Oakland Independent & Republican, February 21, 1936 p. 1

An oxygen tent?

Despite the constant care of Mrs. Swanson and her daughter, the twins were only a combined weight of 5 1/2 pounds by the end of their first week so nurse Wetzel took the babies by train to Omaha on Wednesday, February 26th, eight days after they were born. Many roads were still closed because of the snow but the trains were running again, fortunately. The twins were wrapped in layers of cotton and blankets and carried in a basket.

Once at University Hospital, the twins were placed in a special room where only the doctor and nurses could enter. The temperature was kept to 85 degrees and, with the aid of electric lights, the babies’ temperature kept at 98 degrees. They were clothed in tiny suits lined with cotton. The twins were fed a concentrated formula every two hours, day and night, by a medicine dropper, and later, every three hours by tubes.

They were variously described as having a “fair” chance to survive,  a “50-50 chance,” “every chance to develop into sturdy babies,” and “doing nicely” by Omaha and Lincoln newspapers. Attendants were “hopeful of the twins’ chances” yet “not overly confident” that they would live. The evening edition of the Omaha World Herald on Saturday, February 29 was less optimistic, saying that the trip to Omaha had chilled them, they were not gaining weight, and that doctors were “doubtful” they could survive.

Though he and his brother had initially regained their birth weight after being taken to the hospital, on Friday, March 20th, a little over a month old, Donald died. Ronald, weighing only two and a half pounds, died three days later on Monday, March 23th. The Oakland Independent and Republican reported that the Rev. and Mrs. Carl O. Nelson took my grandmother and her neighbor, Mrs. Albert Swanson, to Omaha on Friday, March 20th but that one baby died before my grandmother reached the hospital.

The Oakland newspaper said that “interment was made in Omaha” but, sadly, they were mistaken.

According to my uncle, University Hospital asked my grandmother if they could keep the bodies for research. My grandmother, whose native language was Swedish, misunderstood and thought they were asking if she wanted the bodies for burial so she said yes. My grandmother never received the bodies.

Years ago my mom and aunt examined every tombstone in Potter’s Field but were unable to find a grave for the twins. No one knew what had happened to the twins until my cousin requested their death certificates. Listed on both documents under “Burial, Cremation, or Removal” is: “disposal by University Hospital.” Each body was disposed of the same day that death occurred.

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