The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 17, 2012

Family of triplets born before tornado celebrates first year

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

JOPLIN, Mo. — Things are looking up on Marigold Drive in a subdivision northwest of Joplin.

It’s now home to the Harper triplets, born May 17, 2011, at Freeman Hospital West to Jayme and Chris Harper.

Because they were born eight weeks early, the three faced many long-term health problems.

But it also meant they escaped the EF-5 tornado that bore down on their Jackson Avenue home on May 22 and leveled it, scattering cribs, diapers and new clothes they never had the chance to wear.

Addison, the feisty one at 1.13 pounds, was born first, followed by Lauren, the more laid-back of the three, weighing 2.2 pounds. Reagan, the last to make an appearance, was the biggest at 3.11 pounds.

Joplin’s Ronald McDonald House would become home for the parents for several weeks until they could find and purchase the home on Marigold Drive. It would be months before they would all sleep under its roof for the first time.

In early July, Reagan was the first to leave Freeman, weighing 6.9 pounds. Addison was next on Aug. 11, weighing 5.7 pounds. But Lauren required multiple surgeries at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City to correct a congenital heart condition, and she wouldn’t come home for good until December.

In the past year, the triplets did what all babies do: They grew, they cut teeth, they began making sounds.

They also did things most babies don’t: They made weekly trips to Kansas City and Springfield to see medical specialists. Their parents keep a three-ring binder of details related to their care, their medications and their appointments. It is now an inch thick.

They all had speech and physical therapy; Lauren relied on a pacemaker and a feeding tube.

Given their most unusual first year, it was fitting that on Thursday, the triplets celebrated their first birthday in a most unusual way. The family members made the rounds to Health Essentials, a medical supply company they came to rely on for their daily needs; the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Freeman, where the babies spent months in recovery; and the Ronald McDonald House.

“You get to know them so well,” Jayme Harper said of those who have helped the family. “They became an extended part of us, and we wanted to show everyone how much the girls have grown and to tell them how much we appreciate all they’ve done for us.”

And then the girls returned home to a birthday present like no other: Joplin Pool & Spa installed an 18-foot-round, above-ground pool in the family’s backyard to accommodate the triplets’ ongoing physical therapy needs.

Birthday pool

In visiting with corporate officials last fall, Joplin Pool & Spa salesman Jeffrey Campbell let it be known that he wanted to help the community in some way.

“I told them there’s going to be a story that comes along, and I told them when it does, we’d like to do a pool for them,” he said.

The company agreed.

This spring, Campbell got a call from Jayme Harper, who wanted to know how much pools cost.

“Addison and Lauren have physical therapy each week, and their therapist recommended water,” she said. “Addison has a lot of stiffness, and Lauren was in the hospital bed so long, she doesn’t have the muscle strength she needs.”

When Campbell learned of the circumstances, he knew immediately this was the family he was looking for.

“When we visited, she went through some of the trials and tribulations of the past year,” he said. “I told that to our manufacturer and got a response back almost immediately. We just took it from there.”

Joplin Pool & Spa worked with the Harpers to select what would best fit their needs and space, and Campbell arranged for Carl Junction firefighters to help with the installation.

The complete price tag, which would have been $6,595 for the installed pool, was waived.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to invest time and our ability to help in the community,” Campbell said. “When this particular situation presented itself, it was a perfect opportunity to not only help the parents a little, but also to give the girls something they truly did need to allow them to be closer to home and their comfort zone during their therapy.”

Jayme Harper picked out colorful swimsuits for Reagan, who now weighs 21 pounds, Addison, now 16.10 pounds, and Lauren, who weighs 16.4 pounds.

“I write all their milestones on the calendar; that’s also where I write all our appointments,” their mother said. “Not living at Children’s Mercy is our biggest accomplishment for the past year. We went from six appointments a month to only two or three.”

‘So very lucky’

ON SATURDAY, the Harper triplets will be treated to a birthday party with family and friends, but doing so will require three different cakes.

“ADDISON IS ALLERGIC TO DAIRY, so hers has to be dairy-free,” said their mother, Jayme Harper. “Reagan can have whatever, but Lauren’s speech therapist says she can only have icing. She doesn’t want her eating cake.”

NEXT TUESDAY, she said, the family will pause for a moment to reflect. “I am thinking wow, five days and we’re observing the anniversary of the tornado,” she said. “We were so very lucky. It brings tears to my eyes.”