The birth of triplets is always a magical moment, as three new lives are brought into the world almost at once. But for first-time mom and dad Amy and Michael Howard of Center Moriches on Long Island, New York, things weren’t so wonderful. In fact, when doctors made a shocking discovery about their newborn sons in 2016, their whole world was rocked. Instead of excitedly being able to enjoy their babies, the Howards were plunged into fear and uncertainty about their future.
When the proud parents held Hunter, Jackson and Kaden after their arrival on October 22, 2016, they could plainly see that something was wrong with the shape of their heads. Initially, they put this down to an understandable lack of space while the trio had been growing inside their mom.
The Howards hoped that now they had escaped the squeezing confines of the womb, the three heads would assume a more conventional shape naturally. However, doctors at Amy’s bedside soon realized that, unfortunately, there was more to it than that.
Craniosynostosis, the condition that made their heads shaped differently, is not all that uncommon: about one in 2,500 babies are born with the disorder. But for three newborns to come along at once with the condition astounded medical professionals. After all, to see triplets all with the telltale protruding foreheads and elongated skulls was statistically staggering.
Amy, 38, and Mike, 41, were told that doctors had never seen a case like their triplets’ before. The odds were an unbelievable one in 500 trillion, but nevertheless it had happened. And the situation was so dangerous that it was decided that – at just nine weeks old – all three would need to go into the operating room for life-changing surgery.
When Amy had fallen pregnant, she and husband Mike were emotional and excited at the prospect of becoming parents. But it took until their second visit to the obstetrician to discover that their excitement was to be multiplied: they had to prepare for not one but three new arrivals. During the scan, two heartbeats were found, and then, amazingly, a third beat was detected on the hospital machinery too.
When the triplets were later delivered, it was discovered that Hunter and Jackson were identical twins; the third brother, meanwhile, was named Kaden. Just days into their new lives, however, it became clear that the babies’ skulls had not developed normally. While the twins had protruding foreheads, Kaden’s head was a triangular shape, and their parents were deeply concerned.
Professionals examined each young child individually and determined that all three needed surgery – and soon. At just nine weeks old, the boys were prepared for potentially life-changing operations at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, NY, to fix the deformations of their skulls. This surgery – which can take up to three hours – had never been carried out on triplets before.
Craniosynostosis is extremely serious in that it prevents the brain from developing naturally. The bones which make up the skull fuse prematurely, leaving the brain with no space in which to grow. This in turn adversely affects vision and leads to a lowering of brain function.
Left untreated, the condition would seriously affect the Howard boys’ quality of life, potentially even leading to blindness and learning difficulties. Meanwhile, the rarity of the situation compelled doctors to carry out CT scans on the triplets to better understand this unique case.
Two days of surgery were dedicated to the Howard babies. Each one would need a surgeon – Dr. David Chesler – to perform an operation that removed bone and released the fused skull plates in order to provide enough space to ease the pressure on their brains and aid normal growth.
The three separate surgeries took place over two days in January 2017. Dr. Chesler made small incisions in each of the boys’ heads and, using an endoscope and a harmonic scalpel, in each case cut out a strip of bone to remove the fused seam present. The immediate outcome? The babies did great and two days after their operations were back home.
Now because the surgery had not been performed on triplets before, the Howards’ case represented a medical first. And yet, to the delight of their parents, the triplets’ operations turned out to be a complete success. The boys had made history and now had the chance to live fully healthy lives.
While still less than three months old, the tiny children were allowed home with their parents, who were, of course, massively relieved that everything had gone to plan. But their journey wasn’t over yet; no, the babies’ road to recovery would involve months of extra care and attention.
For 23 hours a day, seven days a week for six months, it would be crucial that the triplets wear specialised head gear. Yes, these tiny helmets would play an important part in the babies’ recovery, as wearing them would help guide their skulls into a normal shape.
Despite the inquisitive nature of babies, the helmets would need to become part of everyday life. Yet seeing their triplets smiling up at them with their helmets on made Amy and Mike’s days. Speaking to Today.com, Mike said, “They’re making all of their developmental milestones. They have almost normal-sized heads at this point. Aside from the helmets, you wouldn’t know there’s a problem. Overall, they’re happy, well-adjusted babies.”
For an hour each day the triplets had their heads lovingly washed and bathed before the helmets returned. But because the headgear obscured some of the babies’ faces, Amy and Mike developed an ingenious way to tell them apart: different, individually colored socks.
Hunter, Jackson and Kaden are now growing up to be adventurous little boys. Soon enough, the triplets would be able to remove their helmets forever. And with their misshapen heads now a more normal proposition, they are focusing on learning about the world around them like any regular baby would.
Dr. Chesler added, “At this point, the triplets are thriving. The prognosis for Jackson, Hunter and Kaden is perfect – they will do quite well both cosmetically and developmentally.” And with 95 percent of subjects making a full recovery from the surgery, the future looks bright for the Howard family.
Beating odds of one in 500 trillion, the Howard triplets are truly unique. What’s more, incredibly, the parents believe they have been fortunate to have lived through their children’s worrying start to life. “We’ve been blessed throughout this whole thing,” Mike said. “It’s just been an amazing, amazing experience.”