Community rallies behind triplets

·6 min read

Sep. 8—Having one premature newborn can be expensive and stressful for any parent.

Juggling three preemies with ongoing medical woes — while trying to hold fast to your sanity, your career and any semblance of normal — can be downright overwhelming.

White City parents Heather Price and Justin Simmons have run a yearlong marathon of baby-raising under the least ideal circumstances.

The couple found out about their little bundles — identical girls Tori and Ember and baby boy Justin — during a routine eight-week ultrasound, expecting to see one tiny being on the screen.

With the two girls sharing a placenta, a tiny membrane between them, they were deemed high-risk from the get-go. By 26 weeks, 5 days, the girls developed twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, and Price had to be transported immediately to Oregon Health & Science University, where doctors tried to prolong the pregnancy and allow the babies' lungs time to mature before birth.

By 28 weeks, the situation became dire, requiring the babies to be delivered by C-section June 28, 2021.

"Within minutes, all three needed to be intubated and were placed on ventilators; the smallest just 1 pound, 6 ounces. My son suffered a brain and lung bleed at 5 days of life and then developed hydrocephalus, requiring a shunt to be placed in his brain after prior failed treatment," Price said.

"We spent 102 days in the NICU and came home with one baby on oxygen and two babies needing feeding tubes in their nose."

A nurse, Price was no stranger to medical procedures, but having three medically fragile babies was a big adjustment for the family, which already had a 15-year-old with special needs.

Not long after finally coming home, one of the girls, Ember, was diagnosed with a condition called metopic craniosynostosis, which can limit brain growth and development. During treatment for that, she was found to have a tethered spinal cord. In the months that followed, Ember had spinal cord release surgery — the wound later split open and required additional hospitalization — and baby Justin was rushed to the ER with shunt failure concerns and had to be flown to Portland for another surgery.

As the family was gearing up for correction of Ember's metopic craniosynostosis, involving reconstruction of her forehead and brow bones, Justin had further complications and required brain surgery the same week as his sister's stomach surgery.

To date, the babies have endured one eye surgery, two G-tube placements, eight shunt surgeries, one spinal cord release surgery and a cranial vault repair. Long term, the family anticipates complications from a previous brain bleed for Justin — possibly cerebral.

"We have yet to discover the full extent of his brain injury. He was diagnosed with cerebral visual impairment also, so we have yet to determine the extent of this," added Price.

The family's biggest worry after the babies' medical woes? Missed work. Price said the family drained its savings and has resorted to living on credit cards to make frequent trips to Portland. Both parents have missed lots of work.

"Initially, I was able to use short-term disability during the pregnancy and delivery. I did go some months without pay after and have now been using my PTO. I find myself a few hours short of being eligible for FMLA and will be running out of PTO very soon," Price said.

"Our insurance has thankfully covered the medical bills thus far. They're in the millions."

Chelsea Collins, a family friend who set up a GoFundMe for the family, said she could not fathom the hurdles the family has faced in one year. Collins said Price and Simmons are the friends who are usually first to help others in need.

"They've had a really, really long first year, and I think it's going to be prolonged with some of what's going on with baby Justin. ... It's crazy to think about, but even with one baby it would be traumatizing to go through so much," Collins said.

"We just felt like, if there's anyone right now that could use the love, support and help it would be this family. Justin is not someone who would ever ask for help. He's always the one, if you're at his house, he's making you dinner. He likes feeding and taking care of people."

Collins said it was emotional to think of the stress her friends have been facing.

"This last surgery, when they went to take Ember in and had, on the same day, Justin begin having more issues, Justin called us and was really emotional. He called us to let us know about having to have the brain surgery where a tube is draining outside his head from his brain," she added.

"I don't think he knew if baby Justin was going to live or not. And at the same time to be worried Heather had missed so much work that she could lose her job on top of everything else."

Elizabeth Ewing said she was hopeful community support would ease some of the family's stress.

"Heather and Justin are amazing, and they've been through so much with their children, between doctor visits and hospitalizations, but they have met every challenge head on and handled them so well," Ewing said.

"They are so good at advocating for their babies and making sure they get the proper care that they need. They are the absolute best parents that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They are so caring and are the kind of people that would drop everything to help a friend in need."

Price said she was grateful for any amount of help, be it prayers and well wishes, help with the babies and contributions for the parents to spend time with the triplets and big sister, Shyanne. As of Thursday, the GoFundMe had raised $1,710.

A big fan of focusing on tiny victories, the mama of three was grateful this week to have all her babies home, an occasional home-cooked meal and enjoying baby milestones like rolling over and trying to stand.

The next hurdle? They'll face it as it comes.

"It's a lot, but it's what we're doing," said the mom.

"Last year when school started, we were up in Portland with the babies. We're just grateful for the chance to be home this year and grateful we've had a lot of family members step up to help us."

She added, "It's hard to accept help — or really even to need help — but we're super grateful to everyone who has helped so much already."

To donate to the GoFundMe campaign, see https://tinyurl.com/ynumufpz

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.