After trying to conceive for more than two and a half years, Keira and Richard Sorrells were finally ready to welcome triplet daughters into the world in 2006.
But only 25 weeks and five days into her pregnancy, Keira was diagnosed with preeclampsia, causing her blood pressure to skyrocket, kidneys to shut down, and threatening the possibility of a stroke.
To save her life and the babies’ lives, Keira was forced to give birth to daughters Lily, Avery, and Zoe in Atlanta on Dec. 20, 2006 – far earlier than their March 29, 2007, due date.
Collectively, the triplets weighed just more than 4 pounds, designating them as “microbabies.”
Immediately, the girls were rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and connected to oscillators, feeding tubes, nasal cannulas, and IVs. The doctors quickly stabilized Lily and Avery, but it took much longer to care for Zoe.
Lily and Avery spent four months in the hospital.
After five and a half more months, Zoe finally joined her sisters at home – transformed into a medical environment, with feeding tubes in the living room, monitors in the crib areas, and oxygen tanks throughout for Zoe. But a few months later Zoe caught a secondary infection due to MRSA and on Feb. 16, 2008, she died. She was 14 months old.
Helping other parents
Today the Sorrells run The Zoe Rose Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps parents facing the challenges that come with premature babies.
“We’re providing information in various ways that parents can understand and take in,” said Keira Sorrells, who said she and her husband were sometimes overwhelmed managing their triplets’ medical conditions.
“At first we felt so alone because we didn’t have any friends who first of all had triplets, second of all had babies as premature as ours, and third of all had lost a baby,” she explained.
“As we’ve gotten into this community of prematurity and loss, it is so much more common then you even realize until you’re part of the community,” she said. “Often people think that a premature baby just needs to grow and then it’ll be better, but more often than not, that’s not the case. ... If they have a friend or a family member who experiences this, we want to give them real information on how to properly support that family.”
The Sorrells work with hospitals in their home of Jackson, Miss., that notify them of parents with preemies. They also visit the NICU to meet parents personally.
In 2010, they founded the Preemie Parent Alliance, which helps organizations that support parents of premature babies across the country to collaborate.
“We saw people doing great work, but it was great isolated, individual work within communities, not from a regional or national perspective,” said Richard Sorrells.
Jennifer Flippin, nurse manager in UNC’s Newborn Critical Care Center, agrees that information eases parents’ anxiety.
“We find that the best support system for parents is other parents who have gone through something similar and can understand where they are right now in their lives, who understand what a hard time they’re going through,” she said.
Benefit music festival
In August, Lily and Avery start first grade. Lily has minor health problems including kidney reflux and slight sensory issues requiring monthly occupational therapy.
“They’re just your typical 6-year-olds,” said Keira Sorrells.
On Saturday, the Sorrells will bring their passion for preemies to the home of Jerry Levit, Keira’s father, in Graham when they host a music festival, PreemiePalooza.
Held on Windy Meadows Farm in Alamance County, PreemiePalooza will seek to raise $5,000 to establish NICU resource libraries for River Oaks Hospital, Baptist Hospital and St. Dominic Hospital in Mississippi along with a hospital to be selected in the Triangle.
Venable Rotisserie Bistro in Carrboro is catering, and Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill is providing beverages.
Drew and Vanessa Moore, Venable’s owners, have a history with the Sorrells family. Vanessa and Keira became friends while attending Chapel Hill High School together.
Gates open at 5 p.m., and guests should bring picnic blankets and lawn chairs to sit under the oaks and listen to the music played on the porch of Levit’s home, built in 1895.
Levit watched his daughter and son-in-law go through the most difficult experience parents can face.
“For them to be able to transmit their grief and worry into action, support and compassion for other people, it’s awe-inspiring to me,” he said.