Twins kept alive in tiny plastic bags after they were born three months early will celebrate their first birthday on Saturday.
Zaki and Malika Ridge were born on 17 July 2020 at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, Bedfordshire.
They weighed just 2lbs 10oz and 2lbs 5oz respectively and they were put inside what their mother describes as 'sandwich bags' to mimic the womb.
The twins were placed in individual bags to protect their fragile skin and keep them warm, and spent seven weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit until they were able to breathe independently.
Mum Rifit Akram, 41, a police detective, wasn't allowed to see her babies for two days due to the coronavirus pandemic - and medics' worries about the babies contracting the illness.
They were finally able to come home on 12 September last year.
Akram, from Luton, Bedfordshire, said: "The twins have been inseparable from day one.
"Malika went to see her brother every day. She kept him strong and alive. I have no doubt that they pulled each other through. She was off oxygen quicker, but I wanted them to stay together. I think Zaki needed her."
Akram said: "They were so tiny in their sandwich bags when they were born but now they are thriving - I'm so proud of them both.
“To be celebrating their first birthday tomorrow it’s such a big milestone for them for what they have gone through. It's a day we worried might never come."
Akram fell pregnant through IVF with husband Barry Ridge, 37. She was due in October 2020 but in July she began to feel unwell. As she was classed as high-risk, the hospital asked her to come in straight away.
"I had to stay in overnight and the doctors realised my contractions had started," she said.
"I tried to ring my husband but he was impossible to get hold of. Eventually we got him to the hospital and he came just in time for the C-section."
The twins were born four minutes apart - Zaki first at 3.12pm and Malika at 3.16pm.
"I couldn't see them when they were born but I heard them cry," said Akram. "That was a relief."
Unable to see the twins, Akram and Ridge were sent photos of the twins in their incubators.
"They were in little sandwich bags to mimic my womb," she said. "There were wires everywhere."
"When we were able to see them I just had to hold their hand through the incubator."
Malika responded well and came off oxygen within a week - before Zaki followed over a month after - and the pair stayed together.
"It was really important to me that they stayed together," Rifit said.
"I asked them to keep them together as much as possible rather than taking Malika home. That wouldn't have felt right."
The pair were able to come home to meet their sisters - Miley, five and Amira, nine - last September.
"Miley and Amira had only seen them over FaceTime so it was nice to have our family complete and home," Akram said.
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The family are planning to have a big family party on Saturday to celebrate the twins first birthday.
“It’s a very emotional moment to see them a year on when just last year they were fighting for survival in tiny sandwich bags,” said their mother.
The twins' dad, Barry Ridge, said: "Not being able to see them for two days and hold them was very difficult for me.
"They looked so small in their plastic bags but the staff were so great telling me everything as it was happening.
"I couldn’t believe how small they were but that was expected. I had a sigh of relief when they said they were fine and I heard them cry.
"Nearly a year on, I am so proud of the twins who are making great progress and have a great routine. My world is complete and this experience has made my relationship with my wife stronger."
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