After the tragic death of his 19-month-old daughter Victoria, Brennan Brackbill was more determined than ever to cherish special moments with his newborn twin sons.
Brennan and Lesa Brackbill, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, were devastated when Victoria died from Krabbe disease in March 2016. The couple had tried for nearly two years to have children and, after Victoria passed, were left “in a complete fog.”
“The whole thing was terrible,” Brennan tells PEOPLE. “We were taking care of a little girl for 19 months … It was weird because she just wasn’t there anymore. We wouldn’t be able to hold her anymore or talk to her.”
The couple was elated when they learned last September that Lesa was pregnant with twins. And Brennan tells PEOPLE he knew he wanted to have skin-to-skin contact with the babies the moment they were born, just as he did with Victoria.
“It was really important because that initial bond between baby and parent is good,” Brennan, 40, tells PEOPLE. “It was super important to us because of the experience we had with Tori. It just had to happen, and we made it happen.”
Isaiah and Caleb were born on April 24. Photos from just after the birth showed a shirtless Brennan holding the babies excitedly.
“It was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life,” the proud father says. “It was important for me to be there and have that first initial bonding time with my boys. It was a no-brainer, I’d do whatever I had to to make sure it happened.”
Brennan tells PEOPLE that life with the boys has been an “adventure” and although parenting twins has its “challenges,” the couple wouldn’t trade life with the boys for anything.
“It’s definitely a joy. We want what’s absolutely best for them,” he says. “We do what ever we can to make sure they’re comfortable and growing because, as we found out with Victoria, you never know what life’s gonna bring you.”
Brennan says that losing Victoria has helped the couple appreciate the twins in a profound way.
“We were blindsided by her disease. It was terrible,” he recalls. “When she was diagnosed, it was almost like the world came crashing down on us. She was perfectly happy for five months, then the disease took over. It was a death sentence for her.”
Krabbe disease is an incurable illness that attacks a child’s nervous system, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children with the illness usually do not live past the age of 2. Doctors told the Brackbills that Victoria wouldn’t make it to 13 months. She was nearly 20 months old when she died.
“We made a conscious decision to choose joy and to press on and to give [Victoria] the absolute best life we could until the day she passed away,” Brennan tells PEOPLE. “I think that’s why she lived as long as she did.”