Health & Wellness

Triplets make medical history, thrive after surgery for rare birth defect

Amy and Mike Howard went from a family of two to five in a matter of nine months. Then, their babies made medical history.

Hunter, Jackson and Kaden appear to be the first-known case of triplets all born with craniosynostosis, a rare birth defect in which the bones in a newborn’s skull fuse together too early. They were just 11 weeks old when the trio underwent surgery to correct the condition.

“It was scary,” Amy Howard, 38, of Center Moriches, New York, told TODAY.

“I was very freaked out,” added Mike Howard, 41. “Any time you have to put the baby [in an operating room], it’s a little crazy.”

Amy found out she was carrying triplets last spring during a routine checkup. The sonogram tech found one fetus, then another and then paused. “Hold on a second,” she said before announcing there was a third.

Courtesy Howard family
The triplets were born on Oct. 22, 2016.

The triplets were conceived without fertility treatments: “I think we just got lucky,” Mike said, recalling that his first reaction at the news was “Holy [expletive]. I was kind of a little bit in shock.”

Amy remembers hysterically crying: “I was terrified. It took me a little bit of time to get used to the idea, to be honest.”

The triplets — all boys — were born last October. Hunter and Jackson are identical twins, while Kaden is their fraternal brother. Within days, doctors noticed there was something going on with their skulls. Kaden’s head was a triangle shape with a pointy forehead, while Jackson and Hunter had skulls that protruded in the back.

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Courtesy Stony Brook Medicine
Jackson's head before the surgery. "Jackson could not lay on his head... he'd always have to have his head to the side because his skull was protruding so much from the back," his mom said.

All three boys were diagnosed with craniosynostosis, which can limit brain growth. It affects about one in 2,500 births.

Dr. David Chesler, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital who operated on the boys, said he and his team couldn’t find any other reports of triplets all born with craniosynostosis. The trio would all need surgery to correct the problem.

“Your skull is made up of plates, it’s not a single bone,” Chesler said. If the seams join together too early, “the brain can be put under pressure. … That can be detrimental to the brain, the vision, the life of the child. It’s not imminently life-threatening, but it can cause real consequences down the road.”

The three separate surgeries took place over two days in January. Chesler made small incisions on each of the boys’ heads and, using an endoscope and a harmonic scalpel, cut out a strip of bone to remove the fused seam. The babies did great and were back home two days after their surgeries, Amy said.

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Courtesy Howard family
Mike and Amy Howard hold, from left to right, Hunter, Kaden and Jackson.

For the next six to nine months, they must wear orthotic custom-made helmets 23 hours a day to help mold their skulls.

“It took them a little bit of time to adjust, but they don’t give me any problems taking them off or putting them back on at all,” Amy said.

Their head shapes are back to normal, a difference she called “amazing.”

Courtesy of The Howard Family
The Howard triplets, from left to right: Jackson, Hunter and Kaden.

The couple is still adjusting to life with three boys and three cats.

“It’s a little chaotic. It’s awesome, I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it’s crazy,” Mike said.

“The babies want to be picked up all at the same time. It is a little bit hectic, especially around bed time,” Amy added.

They’d like to have a girl join the family, but aren’t planning to have more kids: “With our luck, we would have another set of triplets,” Mike said.

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