NEW ORLEANS -- It may be the first time in the world it has happened. This week local obstetricians had a birth unlike any other, so rare they plan to publish it in the scientific literature for other doctors to see.
But at the heart of this story is a mother who was willing to risk her life for her babies.
To understand just how special newborns Brooklyn, Savannah, and Dakota are, you have to know the story of their mother, Kandace.
Kandace Smith's life has been tough. She was born with cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 people in the country.
'I've had to fight with it for 20 years, and it's been hard,' said Smith of her illness.
CF causes infertility in young men, but it's a misconception that young women with CF can't conceive. They can.
'So it was kind of scary that we went to the doctor and he said, 'You're pregnant' and I was like, 'No, I can't get pregnant,' and he said, 'You are,'' Smith remembers.
The ultrasound revealed one tiny heart beat. But in the next one, a week later, two tiny heart beats. And finally in another later ultrasound, three tiny heartbeats.
'My husband actually fell against the door and he almost passed out. I was actually not believing that there was actually three,' Smith said, laughing.
People with cystic fibrosis fight serious breathing issues. They have a hard time gaining weight. Smith is only 87 pounds. Until recently, they only lived to their 20s. Now modern treatment has moved that life span up to the 30s, even 40s. Smith was told any pregnancy, but especially carrying three babies, could put her life in danger.
'We were very concerned that her lung function wouldn't be able to tolerate the triplet pregnancy. And one of the considerations is that we would have to deliver her early, either that the babies were not at a gestational age that they would live or they were at a gestational age where they would be high risk for long-term disabilities,' said Smith's doctor, Gabriella Pridjian, a Tulane obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in high-risk pregnancies and genetics.
'I think that was the hardest part, because they said termination would be the best, and I'm going to cry. Health-wise, they said it would be better for me to make sure that I would survive,' Smith said through her tears.
Smith spent half her pregnancy at Tulane-Lakeside Hospital. Doctors and medications fought to help her breath, to help her fight infections, to keep her from delivering too soon. But at only 28 and a half weeks, she couldn't breath well.
'I got worse and worse, that's why we had to take the babies out because I didn't think I was going to survive,' said Smith.
So on Oct. 4, a medical team safely delivered the babies by C-section. Three girls, all weighing only around two pounds each. And something so very rare: not only triplets, but identical triplets.
'I'm so excited and ready for it though. I just can't wait to bring them home. I don't know, it's very emotional. It's hard to explain because I'm real speechless about it,' said the babies' father, Steven Bowers.
Smith, 20, and Bowers, 21, met at the age of 13 in the 8th grade. They have been engaged and living together in Morgan City for two years. If they marry, Smith says she will lose her health insurance, so they can't set a wedding date.
Bowers says he is now in love with four girls.
'I've always been concerned about her health, like I've always take care of her IV's at home. I do everything for her. I do all of her breathing treatments,' said Bowers.
'We basically did it because we love each other and we wanted a family,' said Smith about carrying her babies.
Neonatal doctors say while they worry about the lungs, mental and feeding disabilities, as well as sight and hearing in preemies, they have good news: the babies seem to be doing well.
'They really have had very mild problems. None of them needed to be on the ventilator. None of them had difficulty in the delivery room,' said Dr. Jane Reynolds, a Tulane neonatologist.
And some genetic good news. While the girls are carriers of the cystic fibrosis gene, they do not appear to have the illness.
'It's been the hardest fight of my life honestly, but I wouldn't take it back for anything. I would die for these girls if I had to,' Smith said.
The doctors will continue testing the triplets for any health concerns from the early delivery. They expect the babies will be able to go home around their real due date, which is 11 weeks from now.