By Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
FLORENCE, Ala. —A picture of an Alabama boy visiting the grave of his twin brother on his first day of school has gone viral as the twins’ mother speaks out about the condition that killed her son before he was born.
Walker Myrick, of Florence, is now 9 years old, but it is a picture taken in 2012, when he was 5, that has gained international attention. Walker’s mother, Brooke Myrick, said she vividly remembers that day.
Walker was at his brother’s grave before Myrick could get out of the car. When she caught up with him at the burial site, she found Walker sitting with his back against his brother’s headstone, telling him about his first day of school.
She snapped a photo to remember the moment.
Myrick said Thursday that Walker has always felt a bond with his brother, Willis, who died after the boys developed twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome in the womb.
“He truly has a connection with him and always has,” Myrick said.
Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, or TTTS, can occur when identical twins share a common placenta. According to the Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Foundation, the condition results in abnormal blood vessels connecting the twins’ umbilical cords and circulation.
The placenta, and the blood and necessary nutrients for survival, are shared unequally by the twins, according to the TTTS Foundation. The “donor twin” suffers from decreased blood volume, slower than normal growth and little or no amniotic fluid.
The “recipient twin” then becomes overloaded with blood, which puts a strain on the heart, and ends up with too much amniotic fluid. The condition can be deadly for both twins.
TTTS can occur at any time in a woman’s pregnancy, including during birth, the foundation said. The majority of identical twins share a placenta and, of those twins, about 15 percent develop TTTS.
Myrick and her husband, Michael, learned that their twins were in trouble only after a routine ultrasound, during which the technician could not find Willis’ heartbeat. Placenta testing and signs exhibited by Walker throughout the remainder of Myrick’s pregnancy pointed to TTTS as the cause of Willis’ death.
Willis, who died about two months before the boys were born, weighed just 4 ounces at birth.
Myrick said the family honors Willis’ memory every year with a charity walk, held around the twins’ March 6 birthday, to raise awareness of TTTS. This year’s walk will be held on March 5, according to a Facebook page dedicated to the event.
Myrick said Walker has read several of the stories written about him and his brother, though she has tried to shield him from any negative reactions that readers have had.
“I have showed Walker a few of the articles, and he leaned his head on me as he read them. We have always had a strong bond,” Myrick said.
Some people who have read the twins’ story have accused Myrick of instilling grief in Walker and his siblings, 2-year-old Bryant, 4-year-old Cooper and 8-year-old Jolie. The children visit Willis’ grave on holidays and other special occasions.
“They love to pick him out little cars, (or) some kind of trinket,” Myrick told “Inside Edition” in an interview. “It’s just always made (them) feel good to do things like that for their brother.”
Myrick said Thursday that Walker is “very confident” about remembering his brother.
“He doesn’t care how anyone views it,” she said. “He loves his brother.”