LE CENTER, Minn. – Bill Heilman, of Le Center, Minnesota, has learned to sail through the impossible. He whizzes down hallways in his wheelchair at Mayo Clinic, unfazed by any limitations as an incomplete quadriplegic, and after a life taking on challenges, he’s adapting to his new role: fatherhood.
Heilman, 42, broke his neck in a car accident when he was 16. The spinal cord injury left him with only limited use of his hands.
He never knew if his physical injury would prevent him from conceiving children, but when he met Joleen Deutschmann, 32, they decided to start a family together.
Deutschmann has two young girls from a previous marriage and within a month, the couple was surprised to learn they would be having a baby.
Then, about a month later, an ultrasound showed they were having not one baby – but three.
“As soon as we found out there was one, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is different than two able-bodied parents,' and then we found there were three, I was like, 'Now we just need to triplicate everything!'” said Deutchmann.
“It started out, 'Can I do this? Can we do this?' Then it was like, 'OK, we were given this challenge, God wouldn’t have given it to us if he knew we couldn’t handle it,'” she said.
The surprises kept coming when they learned they would be having identical triplets, all girls. Brenna, Lachlynn, and Whitley came into the world at 32 weeks. They all weighed around four pounds and only needed a little help breathing at birth.
The Mayo Clinic says triplets happen in every 1 in 100,000 live births, but there is no data on naturally occurring identical triplets. It’s just that rare.
“I am a firm believer when I had my accident, it was for a purpose, or reason. I lived life to the fullest, I’ve done that quite often and this is the best surprise I could ever get,” said Heilman.
At home, Heilman has already found ways to get his baby girls in and out of cribs, and change diapers, even with limited use of his hands.
“He’s very independent, doesn’t like help at all, which that is OK, because I am now going to be the one who is going to need to ask for help,” said Deutchmann. “I am going to have to adapt.”
The triplets have been home from the hospital for several weeks and are thriving, joining big sisters Koralie, 8, and Ollie, 3. The family reports they still can't tell the babies apart, so they are using painted toenails and colored bracelets to distinguish each of the girls.
Follow the family’s blog and learn more about how Bill will adapt to parenting here.