HOUSTON - A couple in Nebraska was shocked to find out they were having triplets. Then they learned there was a major complication that jeopardized their babies' lives.
They raced to Houston for a life-saving, in-utero surgery. Their babies not only survived but are thriving.
Now, Wade and Sloane Hoefer are thankful for their greatest gift this holiday season - healthy children! They recently reconnected with their surgeon in Houston who helped save their babies to let him know just how well they're doing, now that they're three years old! "I don't think we will ever be able to truly express that he was given the gift to be able to do the surgery and shared his gift with us," smiles Sloan.
"Incredibly grateful, forever grateful. Certainly blessings and we appreciate it so much," states Wade. Dr. Anthony Johnson with UT Health/Children's Memorial Hermann is more than appreciative that this family reached out to him with their happy update.
"This just made my day. Nothing can go wrong the rest of day, that picture of those three girls - this is like, life is good. And it is just a blessing," exclaims Dr. Johnson.
The Hoefer's were dealing with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (also known as TTTS). They had one healthy triplet, but then Sloane was carrying identical twins who were sharing one placenta, causing a major blood-sharing imbalance.
"Our team of doctors in Omaha were great about being pretty transparent and saying, this is a high-risk pregnancy. This is a high-risk complication within a high-risk pregnancy, but we'll tell you when you need to be worried. And around 14 or 15 weeks, they said, it's probably time to start getting a little bit worried. It was really nerve-racking and we spent a lot of time hoping and praying that everything turned out okay," explains Sloane.
It takes a highly skilled surgeon to correct the problem, and that's when they turned to Dr. Johnson.
"Over time as it evolves, one fetus will become stuck because of reduction in fluid, and the other fetus will have access amniotic fluid. And then, it actually can get into heart failure and so when you have unchecked Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome starting before 26 weeks, you're looking at perinatal mortality that ranges close to 90%, where you will lose some and 60% of cases, you'll lose both either because mom goes into labor pre-term or one or both babies die, or one dies and you get a neurologic compromise, so it's a real devastating situation, if left just to progress on its own," explains Dr. Johnson.
The Hoefer's flew to Houston with a flood of emotions, during the time Houston was flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Dr. Johnson and his team performed a complicated in-utero procedure to save their babies.
"It's different because it's not twins, you've got triplets, and you've got this kind of innocent bystander over here on the side (third baby), kind of in the way. Then it's not just fetal surgery, it's maternal-fetal. Sloane is an innocent bystander here, but she's going to have to have surgery to get this thing done," says Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson was able to perform the surgery using a tiny telescope, the size of a straw.
"Once we've mapped everything out from one side to the other, we're going to then put in a different telescope that has a laser fiber in it. And we're slowly going to ablate or close those vessels, and once we close all that down, we will then sort of paint a very thin line, to clinically create two placentas. So, my brother has his piece, I have my piece, and then now we have basically separated the two," states Dr. Johnson.
With a few complications along the way, Sloane was able to carry her triplets until 32 weeks.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience. Everybody says being a parent is one of the most rewarding things and it doesn't hit home until you experience it. Tears of joy, even though they were small, we weren't out of the woods, but they made it, and it was amazing," smiles Wade.
"Truly by the grace of God, prayers given to us and for us, and the hands of Dr. Johnson allowed us to get to even stay in the hospital for eight weeks afterward. We will be forever grateful," says Sloane.
The triplets also have a one-year-old little sister to pamper and play with.
Wade and Sloane plan to cherish every moment with all four of their children this Christmas.
Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome is rare, especially with triplets. Dr. Johnson says it's very important that a mother of multiples ask her doctor how many placentas she has, because each baby needs their own, but he says patients often have to be their own advocate to find help, when there's a missing one.
December is Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome Awareness Month and the Hoefer's are proud to raise important awareness about the condition.
For more information, click here.