When Amy and Michael Howard found out they were having triplets, they were astonished. Then when doctors told them their babies were 1 in 500 trillion they were completely blown away. There’s around a three in 100 chance of having triplets, but Hunter, Jackson and Kaden Howard are special for another reason. Their incredible story of hope and bravery has made them famous around the world.
Hailing from Long Island, New York, Amy, 37, was over the moon when she discovered she was pregnant with her and husband Michael's first child. It wasn’t until they headed for a routine check-up that they found out their journey to parenthood would be a special and unique one. Expecting to see just one baby on the screen, their sonographer told the astonished couple there were three healthy heartbeats. Their reaction wasn't what you would expect.
A shocked Amy admitted she began hysterically crying when she heard the news: “I was terrified. It took me a little bit of time to get used to the idea, to be honest.” While there’s a one in 10 chance of welcoming twins, triplets are less common and estimated at three in 100. Michael admitted the family was stunned, especially as the triplets were conceived naturally without fertility treatment. There wasn't much time to get used to the news before the babies finally arrived. Born on October 22, 2016, the proud parents welcomed identical twins Hunter and Jackson and their fraternal brother Kaden. While it was a moment of joy, Amy said as soon as they saw their sons they knew something was very wrong.
Kaden had a triangle-shaped head and pointed forehead while Hunter and Jackson’s skulls were sticking out at the back. At first, the Howards assumed that it was because they had been squashed in the womb and hadn’t had enough room to properly let their skulls grow. They hoped the misshapen skulls would naturally grow into a normal shape, but doctors weren’t as hopeful. After running a series of tests on the newborn triplets, they were staggered to discover what had caused the strange head shapes. All the Howards could do was wait for the doctors to reveal their diagnosis and when they did, their world was turned upside down.
It was revealed that all three babies were suffering from a condition called Craniosynostosis. A rare condition, Craniosynostosis affects about 4 in 10,000 live births. To have a set of triplets with the condition, the doctors believed it was a 1 in 500 trillion chance. No-one had seen a case like it before and soon experts and doctors from around the world were interested in the triplets. There are several types of this condition that affect different areas of the skull, which explained why the triplets each had different problems. It’s caused by the premature fusion of different parts of the skull, which stops it growing in certain areas. To overcompensate this, the skull becomes overgrown in other parts to ensure there isn’t too much pressure on the brain. Worryingly for Amy and Michael, the dangerous condition could hold serious consequences for the future.
Craniosynostosis causes learning difficulties, sight problems and headaches. As the brain grew, there would be further risks for the triplets. Pressure on the brain would cause distress and challenges for their development. A definite cause of the condition has not been identified, but it’s believed to be down to a combination of genetics and other factors such as diet and medication. Women with or who are treated for thyroid disease while pregnant are believed to have an increased chance of having an infant with Craniosynostosis. After extensive assessment by medical staff, they decided the only strategy was groundbreaking treatment never seen before anywhere in the world.
The triplets were being treated at the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, where they underwent several CT scans so the team there could gain more information about the case. After assessing the conditions, they decided the only option was to operate. Surgery to correct Craniosynostosis has to be carried out while they are six to 12-months. The malleability of the skull meant gaps close naturally. Any older and they may need to use bone filler. The triplets were only 11 weeks old at the time of the surgery and it would be the first of its kind in the world involving huge risks for the triplets.