hen she was born weighing 1 pound, 14 ounces, Joan Salmi was small enough to fit in the doctor's hand. Four minutes later, her twin, Joyce Jezierski, was born, weighing nearly 3 pounds.

hen she was born weighing 1 pound, 14 ounces, Joan Salmi was small enough to fit in the doctor's hand. Four minutes later, her twin, Joyce Jezierski, was born, weighing nearly 3 pounds.

"I was polite and let you go first,'' Joyce quipped.

"I remind her I'm older than her by four minutes. I tell her to mind her elders,'' Joan shot back.

The two sisters survived, beating the odds for such small babies in the 1930s. On Monday, they will celebrate their 75th birthday.

The fraternal twins got together recently to talk about their lives. Joyce, who lives in Duluth, was staying in Lakeshore's rehabilitation unit in Duluth while recovering from knee surgery. Joan, who lives in Superior, was coping with her own health problems. Both, however, have healthy senses of humor and an obvious affection for each other.


Asked to describe Joyce, Joan said she doesn't dare say she's her favorite sister because they have two other sisters. "I can say I think she's pretty special,'' Joan said.

Joyce shrugged off the compliment. "I think she's full of baloney," she said, then described Joan as her "sweet sister."

The story of their birth is part of their family's lore. Their mother, Stenette Mohr, gave birth on Friday the 13th in 1931 at St. Mary's Hospital in Superior. A nurse asked her if she was superstitious and she said she wasn't. It turned out to be a lucky day because her tiny babies survived.

"Our mother had us baptized right away and she thought it pulled us through," Joyce said. "I think it did, too."

The elder twin was named Joan Stenette Mohr after their mother and the younger twin was named Joyce Floydine Mohr after their father, Floyd Mohr.

Dr. Judy Rigby, a neonatologist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Mary's in Duluth, said it was extremely rare for babies the size of Salmi and Jezierski to survive 75 years ago.

"I can honestly say I've never heard of twins in that age group surviving at that weight ever,'' she said. "... It's downright miraculous."

Hospitals in that era were unable to produce oxygen for patients, so the twins' lungs must have matured a little bit by the time they were born, Rigby said.


Medical treatment for babies has greatly improved in recent years. Now, babies born at 24 weeks gestation and 500 grams (slightly more than 1 pound) have about a 50 percent chance of surviving under the best circumstances, but still can face handicaps, Rigby said. About 85 percent of babies with a birth weight of 1,200 to 1,500 grams (2.68 to 3.35 pounds) and about27 weeks gestation survive, she added.

Joan said she was in an incubator at the hospital for seven months and Joyce was in a hospital incubator for three months. When her parents took Joan home from the hospital, her mother had to feed her every two hours with an eyedropper.

"We had heads the size of lemons,'' Joyce said.

Their father worked as a dispatcher for Minnesota Power and Light and they lived in company housing near Thomson Dam, which is on the St. Louis River. Eleven months after the twins were born, their mother gave birth to another daughter. Later, she had two sons.

With six children to care for, their mother needed help, so the girls often lived with separate relatives. "We were kind of shifted around,'' Joyce said.

The two recalled how their mother used to make them matching clothes and how at5 and 7 years old they were featured in newspaper articles that talked about how they beat their birth weight handicap and were normal, happy children.

Because her lungs never fully developed, Joan said she was sick a lot and had pneumonia a few times. Because she missed so much time in school, she graduated from Duluth Denfeld High School in 1950, a year after her sister. After high school, each worked for a few years, then married and became homemakers.

Joan's husband, Hugo, said Joan entered hospice care a year ago because of lung and heart problems and recently was told by the hospice chaplain that she graduated from hospice.


"I'm too stubborn to die,'' Joan said. "I'm not ready yet."

Joyce said she weathered being a little baby just fine.

"She's in good shape,'' added her husband, Dan.

Joan and Hugo have a son and a daughter and Joyce and Dan have a son, three daughters, seven grandchildren, two stepgrandchildren and one great-grandson. Joan and Hugo celebrated their 50th anniversary last year and Joyce and Dan celebrated their 50th anniversary this year.

"We picked good ones,didn't we?'' Dan said.

The two sisters said they always have gotten along well and they talk on the phone and see each other regularly. When asked if they feel like survivors, Joan said heartily, "You better believe it."

"We were miracles and still are miracles,'' Joyce said.

LINDA HANSON covers family issues and religion. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5335 or by e-mail at .

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