The miracle triplets: Sisters who doctors said would not survive pregnancy celebrate fourth birthday with a loving hugDoctors warned that IVF babies born 10 weeks premature could be blind or brain damagedOne of the three developed an infection in intensive care and medics said she had less than a day to live
Miracle triplets Holly, Cara and Kate Thirkell share a loving hug – after defying doctors who said they would never live.
The outlook for the trio was bleak from the moment they were conceived, with medics giving little hope of all three surviving until the end of their mother’ s pregnancy.
At one point their devastated parents, Anne and Lawrence, who live near Aberdeen, were warned that even if the girls did survive they would likely be blind or brain damaged.
Flower girls: The cheery little girls share a group hug in the snow while wrapped up in fleece tops against the cold
It was a living nightmare for the couple, who feared they might never have a family after six years of trying unsuccessfully.
They then faced further agony when the triplets were three weeks old and still in intensive care, when Kate fell seriously ill with an infection and was given less than a day to live.
But against all odds, the IVF babies, who were delivered 10 weeks premature, never gave up their battle for life.
Now, just weeks after celebrating their fourth birthdays, they are like any other healthy youngsters who love going to nursery, playing games and getting up to mischief.
Mrs Thirkell, a 38-year-old teaching fellow, said: “When I look at them now I can barely believe they are the same babies who were born so tiny.
“The doctors were so negative about the chances of us having all three babies at the end of the pregnancy, we couldn’t think that we’d end up with them all.
“They were worried how the babies were lying because they were too close to the neck of the fallopian tube.
“But they persisted and we are just so grateful that we have all three. There were times I really didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Now even a trip to the shops and getting the girls ready for nursery can be an exhausting experience for Mrs Thirkell and her husband, a 43-year-old computer systems engineer.
They even have three bedtime stories -one chosen by each triplet – to read every night as they strive to treat the girls as individuals.
Mrs Thirkell said: “It’s hard but it’s absolutely worth it.
“We got our family in a oner and we are so grateful we don’t have to go back for more IVF”
Miracle sisters: Holly, Cara and Kate Thirkell, all aged four defied doctors who thought they would not survive
The triplets were born at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital on October 2, 2007, by emergency caeserian section.
Holly was first to arrive, weighing just 2lb 12oz, followed by her sisters Cara and Kate, at 3lb 2oz and 3lb 3oz, with all three born less than two minutes apart.
There were fears the triplets would be born nearly four months premature when Mrs Thirkell’s cervix showed signs of opening just 24 weeks into the pregnancy.
As a result she needed a cervical stitch – a risky procedure that can trigger contractions to start.
But the babies managed to stay put for another six weeks.
Mrs Thirkell said: “The statistics of any of them surviving was low and if they did survive we were told that there was a high chance they could be born blind.
“That was a real concern but they got over that hurdle and we got to 30 weeks.”
Thankfully, despite being so tiny at birth, they were all breathing on their own and before being whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit, they were placed on their mother’s stomach for a quick cuddle.
They were then placed in separate incubators, where they spent the next six weeks fighting for life.
An infection three weeks after they were born, however, left Kate so ill doctors feared she would not last another day.
She needed several blood transfusions, her liver was enlarged and she was put on a ventilator.
Little fighter: Baby Kate fell seriously ill with an infection and was given less than a day to live after the trio were born 10 weeks premature
Doctors spent a week battling to save the tot and her only hope in the end was a cocktail of antibiotics, not normally used on babies, and there were no guarantees there would be no long-term side affects.
Mrs Thirkell said: “They took us into a room and said they didn’t know if she was going to last the day.
“It was horrendous. The fact that we had two others who were doing OK was no comfort.
“We just couldn’t see how we could ever celebrate having the other two if we lost Kate. I just cried and cried, it was absolute desolation.
“It almost felt like she was a part of me. We were then worried that one of the others would catch it and we wouldn’t be so lucky.”
But after seven days Kate started to show signs of recovery and following six weeks in hospital, she and her sisters were allowed home.
One of the biggest challenges the couple faced was when the triplets turned two and switched from their cots into beds, as they had to rearrange the entire room to stop them from climbing on the furniture.
They even thought about installing cameras to keep a close eye on them at all times.
But Mrs Thirkell said: “Fortunately, when you have triplets, it starts off being as hard as it possibly can be and so every year life has got easier and little things like being able to take the girls out on my own and know that they won’t run off makes a huge difference.
“They’re not overly competitive with each other, which makes life easier. They have the odd spat but on the whole they get on really well.”
Vulnerable: The triplets when they were babies sound asleep in their cot at home