The Septuplets Turn 10!
Behind the Scenes
These days, they're aware they're famous and will even point that out to their mother from time to time. "But they're still not sure why," Bobbi marvels. "They've noticed there aren't other families with such large numbers of children born on the same day, but they haven't put it all together."
But of course, as children, they are more interested in things they've accomplished by themselves, like Brandon's and Kenny Jr.'s baseball trophies, earned at school last year.
Nathan's most recent big achievement has been giving up his walker, which had been necessitated by spastic diplegia, or unwanted muscle contractions, a problem he's had since birth. Surgery, as well as ongoing physical therapy, contributed to the improvement. In September 2006 doctors cut through the bones of his lower legs, which had been pulled out of alignment by his muscles. They then reoriented the bones to straighten out his feet. To hold the shinbones in place while they were healing, the doctors placed metal plates on them. The bones have healed, so the plates will be removed in the near future during an as-yet-unscheduled operation.
Alexis, the other septuplet with persistent physical issues, will have surgery to straighten her feet in the next year or two -- paid for, as most of the septuplets' medical costs are, by the health insurance their father has through his job at a Des Moines factory that powder-coats furniture and other items. In Alexis's case, hypotonic quadriplegia, or weakness in all four limbs, causes the misalignment. Meanwhile she receives physical therapy and periodic injections around her upper legs. The medication deadens the nerves, interrupting the inappropriate muscle patterning and allowing her to build strength. She still relies on a walker, however.
Both Nathan and Alexis need tutoring in reading and math but are essentially working at grade level, as are the other septuplets. The children have moved beyond most of the medical issues of their early years -- including Joel's strabismus, which caused his eyes to cross until an operation corrected them, and the reflux that caused swallowing problems for Natalie and Alexis. Both girls wear glasses to correct nearsightedness, according to Bobbi (Alexis since preschool, Natalie since second grade).
The septuplets' progress has been remarkable. "They're seven of the healthiest kids I see, with few of the issues, like respiratory problems, you'd expect from preemies," says Peter Hetherington, DO, their pediatrician since birth. "Yes, Nathan and Alexis have some neurological issues, but often children born with similar problems can spend a lifetime in a wheelchair."
Dr. Hetherington also notes that they're "socially adapted." The girls tend to share friends, Bobbi reports, and the boys typically have individual best pals.
Occasionally medical issues do crop up for the children just because they're active. This past August, for example, the septuplets were playing outside with an 11-year-old cousin. Climbing is irresistible for Joel, so he had scaled a large shade tree. "He can climb lampposts," declares Kelsey. Suddenly a branch broke beneath Joel's weight, and Bobbi, who was -supervising the children, looked up to see him plunge some 18 feet, landing flat on his back.
Bobbi quickly told her niece to take the other children indoors so they wouldn't become upset or panic Joel. Though Joel never lost consciousness or even cried, mostly because the wind was knocked out of him, says Bobbi, she admits she was frightened during the few minutes they waited for the ambulance. "I didn't know how badly he was hurt," she says. Joel and his mom were whisked to a nearby emergency room, where pediatric and trauma doctors diagnosed compression fractures in five vertebrae -- uncomfortable, but not major injuries.
"They put a plaster vest on him to immobilize and protect his vertebrae for several weeks," explains Dr. Hetherington, who met Bobbi and Joel at the ER. "He was moving around just fine and merely a little less talkative than usual. After a brief hospital stay they sent him home with over-the-counter painkillers. We don't expect long-term effects." Though Joel certainly wasn't able to climb anything for a while, he could walk unaided and started fourth grade with his siblings on August 22.
Bobbi is philosophical about the accident. "He loves climbing and is good at it," she says. "I discourage him from going too high, but really, I don't want any of them avoiding things they enjoy because of my fears."
Joel may be the septuplets' aerialist, but all seven explore the world with gusto. "They're becoming independent, testing life," says Kenny. He and Bobbi are well aware that the day is coming when they'll have not eight tykes but eight teenagers in the house.