By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Jenna Hinman is fighting for her life in a medically-induced coma after she gave birth to healthy twins at 30 weeks pregnancy, only to discover she had a rare cancer of the placenta that has filled her lungs with tumors.
The 26-year-old mother is in “critical but stable” condition at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. The twin baby girls, Kinleigh and Azlynn are doing fine at 2 pounds, 9 ounces, and 3 pounds, 6 ounces, respectively.
"We're hanging in there," her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Hinman, told ABCNews.com. "We are just taking it day to day, but we are starting to get some positive results and are pretty happy about that. The chemo is starting to have an effect."
"The twins are doing well and don't have breathing tubes anymore," said Hinman, 30, who is stationed at Fort Drum. "Both are feeding and right where they need to be at 30 weeks."
Crouse Hospital spokesman Bob Allen said her treatment was "a highly rare situation here, not just because of the pregnancy-related cancer, which is a big piece of it, but the fact that she is on ECMO technology.”
ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is a therapy that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream. The most common conditions that may require ECMO are: heart malformations, severe air leak problems and severe pulmonary hypertension, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Jenna Hinman, a recreational therapist, began to go into labor on March 3 and was rushed to the emergency room at Good Samaritan Hospital in Watertown, N.Y., where the twins were delivered by emergency C-section. The same day, the twins were transported to Crouse Hospital in Syracuse where its Walter R.G. Baker Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is the only one in the in central New York designated as a regional perinatal center.
The new mother had only a quick visit with the babies before they were taken to the Crouse NICU. When Jenna Hinman began coughing up blood, she, too was transferred to Crouse.
“She was really in distress with breathing difficulties,” Crouse Hospital spokesman Cheryl Abrams told ABCNews.com. “It was a situation where the babies were in distress, too.”
At first doctors suspected pneumonia, but three days later, they diagnosed stage 3 choriocarcinoma.
Choriocarcinoma is a malignant form of gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD), tumors that involve abnormal growth of cells inside a woman’s uterus. This particular type affects only about 2 to 7 of every 100,000 pregnancies in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
Choriocarcinoma is much more likely than other types of GTD to grow quickly and spread to organs away from the uterus. About one-quarter of women who develop this disease miscarry.
Chief of Medicine for Crouse Hospital Dr. David Landsberg said stage 3 cancer had invaded Hinman's lungs but had not gone to the brain. The cancer itself is "curable tumor," he said.
"Placental tissue grows at a very rapid rate to support the fetus, which explains why the cancer is so aggressively metastatic," he said. "It grows into the uterus and once it gets out, it's looking for somewhere else to grow."
Without ECMO, her condition would be "100 percent fatal," said Landsberg. "The chemo will be the real cure. The ECMO is keeping her alive for the chemo to do its job."
He said a cure was "on the edge of what is possible."
"It's a highly curable malignancy, but the danger to the patient is just from being on ECMO," said Landsberg. "The sooner we get her off it, the better."
Landsberg woke Jenna Hinman up briefly so her husband could reassure her about the babies.
"He pushed back the sedation for 30 seconds and had me to talk to her to make sure Jenna was still there," said Brandon Hinman. "She nodded slightly. So yeah, I believe she was there."
Now, he is "very hopeful" his wife will be off ECMO by week's end.
"She's probably the most kind-hearted person I ever met," Hinman said of his wife. "She would go out of her way for anyone, give them the shirt off her back."
The couple had difficulty getting pregnant because of his multiple deployments to Europe and Afghanistan. "We never had a solid amount of time together," he said.
But just before another deployment, they got the good news. "I got to stay back," he said. "It was amazing."
Jenna Hinman's uncle, John Warter, has raised more than $60,000 in GoFundMe campaign, which notes that ECMO treatment is costing an estimated $100,000 a day. The military insurance TriCare will pay for all the medical expenses, but the funds raised will help offset travel and food expenses, as well has help support the family's needs once they are home.
Two of Jenna Hinman's close friends created a Facebook page, Prayers for Jenna, which provides updates on her condition. The page now has more than 26,000 likes and features thousands of messages of support from people from across the country.
Contributions will go to “the incalculable costs that face this beautiful young family in the hard months and years ahead.”
"He is an amazing young man," Landsberg said of Brandon Hinman. "The dignity with which he conducts himself -- the whole family -- it's so compelling."