THEY are united in their battle to survive – baby twin sisters who share a challenging heart condition, and who need their mother and father by their side.

But while tiny Natasha and Hermione Sutcliffe have fought hard to become strong enough to no longer need life support, they are missing the loving arms of their mum.

As the five-months-old twins’ struggle against a serious heart condition continues in hospital in Glasgow, mother Gemma has had to stay at home in Dundee to care for their four siblings.

In the five weeks since they were transferred from Ninewells Hospital for specialist care at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, Gemma can count on one hand the number of times she has seen them.

Now the 32-year-old and husband Matthew, 30, have appealed for help to cover the mounting costs of the twin’s hospital stay and to enable the family to spend more time by their bedsides.

The girls were born in November weighing just over 5lbs each and sharing a congenital heart condition, ventricular septal defect (VSD), which means both have a hole in the lower pumping chambers, or ventricles, of their hearts.

Their condition was so poor that they had to remain in intensive care at Ninewells Hospital for months, while two operations aimed at repairing their hearts were cancelled because they weren’t strong enough.

As their condition deteriorated, the twins were moved to Glasgow for specialised intensive care.

But while Mr Sutcliffe has been staying at Ronald McDonald House in Glasgow and visits the babies every day, Gemma has had to stay behind in Dundee to care for the couple’s other children Jessica, 11, Joshua, 10, Simon, six, and five-year-old Kimberly.

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Due to financial constraints, Gemma has only seen her baby daughters fewer than five times in the five weeks they have been treated in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Both twins have been taken off life support,but the couple remain unsure when they will have heart surgery and how long it will be before they can go home to Dundee.

Mr Sutcliffe said: “We don’t know if they will ever come home. When they were in Ninewells, my other kids got to visit them every day. We even spent Christmas with them at the hospital because we couldn’t take them home.

“But since they arrived in Glasgow, the children have seen them about two times, and Gemma has only seen them once or twice.

“It’s a shame because I get to see them every day.”

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Gemma said: “When I was pregnant, we were told that they could have heart problems – Matthew’s side of the family had a history of heart problems. They were getting monitored every fortnight so we were prepared for them to come out with heart problems. They kept them in the hospital when they discovered they had holes in their hearts. They were then moved into intensive care.”

Both twins have undergone stop-gap procedures to fit a temporary band that medics hope will ease their health problems while they wait for surgery.

A ventricular septal defect occurs when there is a hole in the wall between the two lower chambers of the heart – the ventricles.

This causes blood to leak between the two sides of the heart, which are supposed to be separated into blood with oxygen and blood without.

Leakage like this means more blood is pumped into the lungs, forcing them and the heart to work harder, increasing the risk of potentially life-threatening complications.These can include heart failure, infection of the heart (endocarditis), high blood pressure in the lungs, stroke, or an irregular heartbeat. The defect can be repaired by surgeons through open-heart surgery or patched up temporarily – most children who have the surgery go on to live healthy lives.

About one in every 240 babies develop a ventricular septal defect, which happen while the heart is developing in the womb.

Leakage like this means more blood is pumped into the lungs, forcing them and the heart to work harder, increasing the risk of potentially life-threatening complications.

The defect can be repaired by surgeons but open-heart surgery is taxing on the body and the twins must become strong and healthy before it can be done.

Mr Sutcliffe added: “We really want them to get the surgery but it’s not about the size of them, it’s more about how strong they are, so hopefully they don’t pick up other infections.

“The next operation will be the open heart surgery and doctors plan to do that in the next three to six months but it all depends on their health. It is hard for us just now and especially for Gemma. She doesn’t feel like she’s getting the bonding time with them because she’s so far away. Having seen them recently, I can tell that Hermoine is the happy-go-lucky one, she’s always smiling. But Natasha can be a little bit grumpy.”

The couple have launched an appeal via online fundraising site GoFundMe, highlighting the costs of travelling to and from Glasgow and hotel bills. It adds: “We are now financially drained and just want the girls to come home.

“Our other four children missed out on so much as we have been back and forward to hospital for four months.”

Mr Sutcliffe added: “Let’s make all six children’s dreams come true and make it so every weekend from now me, my wife and all our children can be by their bedside and give the girls the best medicine – the love and warmth of having all your loved ones by your side, which I know will make them stronger as time goes on.”

So far, more than £1,000 of a £10,000 target has been met.