Joplin couple finally bring triplets home after struggles

Friday, September 2, 2011 | 2:21 p.m. CDT
Jayme Harper plays with triplets (from left) Addison, Lauren and Reagan at their new home in Joplin, Mo., on Aug. 26. The triplets were born prematurely before the May 22 tornado, so the Harpers were at Freeman Hospital when the tornado struck their home.

JOPLIN — It looks like a typical home with three infant residents: Bouncy seats and play gyms fill the living room, and baby blankets and pacifiers litter the end tables.

But the piece of paper first-time mom Jayme Harper hands over is a schedule for those infants that is not so typical:

Liver follow-up, Sept. 6, Children's Mercy Hospital, KC. Eyes, Sept. 7. Endocrine follow-up, Sept. 16. Neurology, Sept. 16. Kidney follow-up, Nov. 30. Special care clinic, Jan. 23.

That schedule would be a bit overwhelming, she said, were it not for the fact that the overwhelming part of their lives already took place back in May, and again in June, and in July, and then in early August.

This part, she said, might be chaotic, but it's blissful.

Harper, 34, and her husband, Chris, 33, lost their home on Jackson Avenue in the May 22 Joplin tornado. They had been preparing for the birth of triplets.

Chris Harper told The Joplin Globe in a June article: "Their closet was packed with little clothes. We were ready."

Those clothes, along with three car seats, three strollers, three cribs and a mountain of diapers, were scattered to the winds.

But the Harpers counted their blessings: Their triplets were born on May 17, eight weeks before their due date, and were safe at Freeman Hospital West with their parents when the tornado hit.

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

The nearby Ronald McDonald House became home for the parents for several weeks until they could find and purchase a home in north Joplin.

Reagan was the first to leave Freeman, weighing in at 6.9 pounds.

The next two months proved to be an emotional roller coaster for the Harpers.

In July, they went back and forth from home to the hospital. Chris Harper did his best to work a regular schedule at O&F Machine Products Inc. in Joplin while trying to salvage anything he could from their damaged home.

When August arrived, the couple expected Addison and Lauren to be dismissed from the hospital, and they were eager to finally have the entire family under one roof. But the girls had lingering health conditions.

By Aug. 10, Jayme Harper was crushed. "Their discharge has been postponed due to their lack of weight gain," she said that afternoon. "Maybe in three to four more days."

Then she was told that the girls would need to be transferred to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

"God never gives us more than what we can handle, but I seriously feel challenged right now!" she posted for friends on Facebook.

In the end, the girls remained at Freeman. On Aug. 11, Addison went home. She weighs 5.7 pounds. Recently, the last one to be hospitalized, Lauren, went home at 6.7 pounds.

"No one thought they would survive being born at 31 weeks, and look at them: Three months old, and they will all be home under one roof," Jayme Harper said.

Their home isn't bare any longer, after an outpouring of support from friends, new neighbors and complete strangers.

"People saw our story in the paper," Jayme Harper said. "One lady embroidered three towels with the girls' names, and the package had no return address. Someone sent us a $100 check, and we don't even know who she is. Another person got us a rocking chair, and we have no idea who it was. It's humbling."

A Joplin mother of triplets, Shelly Robertson, sought out Jayme Harper to offer support and friendship.

"And this neighborhood is very family-friendly and has been very kind to us," she said. "I feel like we've known our neighbors for a long time now."

Jayme Harper hasn't left home much, but she has driven by the site of their former home on Jackson Avenue.

"I drove by it yesterday, coming home from taking Lauren to her first doctor's appointment," she said. "There's not even a foundation there anymore, so I didn't realize when I was in front of it."

She said she has thought many times of several of their previous neighbors who were home when the tornado struck and suffered injuries.

"It's tough to drive by it," she said. "When the final baby left the hospital, it was very emotional. It's a reminder that the tornado started after they got here, and they're still here. It didn't tear our family apart."

They lost their childhood photos, so when people ask which parent the babies most resemble, Jayme Harper isn't quite sure. But Chris Harper's mother brought by a few framed photos of him as a toddler, and they now grace the fireplace mantel.

"We've put closure on it," Jayme Harper said. "It gives us peace that everything's going to be OK."

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