Sophie, Emma, and Zoe are three very remarkable girls. Their mother Liz ended up going into labor at twenty-weeks and was able to hold off delivery until the triplets starting showing signs of distress. All three little ones, despite all odds being against them due to being extremely premature, were born via C-section, only twenty-four weeks into the pregnancy, on April 30th, 2000. The girl’s birth weights were extremely low. Sophie weighed one pound, three ounces, Zoe weighed one pound, six ounces, and Emma weighed only one pound, five ounces.
Sadly, all three girls ended up blind due to developing advanced-stage Retinopathy of Prematurity. Out of the three girls, Sophie has very limited hearing and sight, Emma and Zoe have neither. According to WebMD, Retinopathy of Prematurity occurs in infants born prematurely, the blood vessels that supply the retinas are not yet completely developed. Although blood vessel growth continues after birth, these vessels may develop in an abnormal, disorganized pattern, known as ROP. In some affected infants, the changes associated with ROP spontaneously subside. However, in others, ROP may lead to bleeding, scarring of the retina, retinal detachment, and visual loss. Even in cases in which ROP changes, stop or regress spontaneously, affected children may have an increased risk of certain eye (ocular) abnormalities, including nearsightedness, misalignment of the eyes (strabismus), and/or future retinal detachment. The two major risk factors for ROP are a low birth weight and premature delivery.
Following close after the triplets first birthdays, all three girls started experiencing hearing loss and were completely deaf by their second birthdays. The hearing loss was a resulting side-effect of ototoxicity from antibiotics received in the NICU, which affected their cochlea's. In some cases, the effects of ototoxicity are temporary and reversible, and in other cases are irreversible and permanent, which was unfortunately the case with the triplets. In extreme cases, ototoxic antibiotics are still prescribed despite their risk of hearing disorders. As a result of becoming blind, the triplets became known as the world's only identical deafblind triplets.
Due to the triplets premature births, and as well as their debilitating disorders, the triplets communicate at a lower than normal age level. As one might expect, their parents, Liz and George, have had many struggles in raising the triplets. Liz and George also have an older daughter, Sarah as well. One of the family’s biggest challenges is keeping the girls on a schedule. Since the girls live in a world of darkness and silence they often want to sleep during the day, referred to as Non-24-hour sleep–wake disorder. Non-24-hour sleep–wake disorder described as a disorder in which the body's circadian clock (internal "body clock") doesn't receive signals from the eyes about the surrounding environmental light levels, requiring the retina, optic nerve, and visual processing system to function properly, which is not the case with blindness. The three girls are kept active throughout the day so that they are able to sleep through the night.
The triplet’s story was featured on the Dr. Phil Show where Liz and George were surprised by the gift of a Deafblind Intervener who worked with the girls in their Texas home for two years. The intervener received specialized training in working with the deafblind, and is much like Helen Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, who taught Helen how to communicate successfully with others.
Liz and George have devoted their lives to providing their deafblind triplet daughters with all opportunities to live productively and successfully. The production company, Hands Free Entertainment produced a video called "Through Your Eyes" which documented the triplets as well as other deafblind people living in America. You can watch the documentary video at the end of this article.
As much of a devastating and debilitating disorder deafblindness is, unfortunately, it has extremely little public awareness. This extraordinary and heartening family has been through an incredible amount suffering, only to continue to face struggles for the rest of their lives. Awareness needs to become a priority and needs to start being raised for people living with deafblindess. By spreading this story about the Dunn triplets, each time their story is heard or read, it will help give a better understanding about how serious deafblindness is.
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