Stories That Connect Us

The McMullen Twins Born in 1939

August 2, 1939 – Statewide spotlight shone on Morton Plant Hospital when the fate of premature twins Sara Melinda and Laura Lucinda McMullen made front-page news throughout Florida. Born three months early, the tiny twins had a combined weight of less than five pounds. Nurses created a makeshift incubator out of an orange crate and a light bulb. The pair was fed with delicate tubes and medicine droppers until they were strong enough to be discharged three months later.

[Following is the story from Giant Steps: The History of Morton F. Plant Hospital, © 1981]

It began shortly after noon during the heat of the day on August 2, 1939, when Mrs. Daniel Guy (Laura) McMullen delivered identical twin girls almost three months ahead of schedule. No incubators were there to greet tiny Sara Melinda (2 lbs. 8 oz.) and Laura Lucinda (2 lbs. 2 oz.) when they arrived with the assistance of Dr. Robbins Nettles, superintendent Lilly Foley, RN, and anesthetist Mary Phillipoff, RN, who vividly  recalls the births. “They were so tiny, he had them in the palm of his hand when he handed each one to Lilly Foley. We gave them oxygen and mouth to mouth resuscitation to get them to breathe and because they were sort of bluish… the mother was a strong woman and she immediately returned to being quite normal. She was returned to her room and Miss Foley was (conditionally) baptizing the babies as she always did with babies that they thought weren’t going to live.”

The doctor’s orders for the babies were simple, “Do what you think is best. Feed them any formula. They can’t possibly survive.” “They might, they’re McMullens you know,” replied Lilly Foley.

Skeptical newspapers as far away as Miami waited a week to make the arrival of the three-month premature babies front page news.

How the McMullen twins survived is an inspiring story of the result achieved through well-trained, persistent and loving nursing care given by the staff, working night and day through 12-hour shifts. Kitty Keen Lutes and Carrie Wallace were among those who worked the babies’ schedules into night duty in the two-story 54-bed hospital, while managing the Emergency Room at the same time.

An orange crate lined by housekeeper Aileen Black became an incubator with four pockets to hold hot water bottles and light bulbs for warmth. Frequent resuscitation and oxygen applied through a small sterile sponge helped the babies “pink up” when they periodically turned bluish.

Physicians peeking under the corner of the blanket covering the “incubator” time and again predicted, “they can’t possibly live!”

However, within a few days, a medicine dropper replaced the delicate tubing procedure at feeding time and soon tiny telltale “marbles” appeared in the cheeks and on the chins as the blonde, blue-eyed babies began to gain weight.

The old fashioned rocking chair in the nursery was seldom vacant during the three months before the smiling, responsive twins, weighing more than six pounds each, joined their two brothers in the family home near Safety Harbor, where the first McMullens had settled almost 90 years ago.*

In 2016, the twins, both married and living in Clearwater, are living testimony to the amazing results of dedicated nursing care.

*The first McMullens settled in Clearwater in the mid 1800s

 The McMullen Twins
McMullen Twins, 1939
 The McMullen Twins, circa 1980. Laura is on the left; Linda is on the right.
McMullen Twins, Laura (left) and Linda (right), circa 1980
 Mary Jurick Phillipoff RN, 1939 anesthetist for the McMullen Twins
Mary Jurick Phillipoff, RN
Anesthetist for the McMullen Twins, 1939
A copy of the 1939 prescription for formula for the McMullen Twins 
Formula Prescription for the McMullen Twins, 1939