Miracle babies beat odds, now college bound

Miracle babies beat odds, now college bound
Robert, Caroline and Jake Still

Born prematurely at 28 weeks the day before Thanksgiving in 1997, Ortega triplets Jake, Caroline and Robert Still graduated from The Episcopal School of Jacksonville last month having beaten the early odds of survival nearly 20 years ago.

“They truly are our miracle babies, born on Nov. 26, 1997 at just over 2.5 lbs.,” said their mother, DeAnna Still Hawthorne. “They were whisked away at birth without a glimpse. It was 12 hours later before I was able to see their tiny bodies, all three intubated with feeding tubes and IVs in every one of their limbs, including the side of their heads. Even their eyes were covered as they struggled to breathe. It was touch-and-go for several days, especially with Caroline’s collapsed lung.”

They stayed in incubators until late December. “We were not able to hold them all at once until Christmas day,” said their father, Dr. Robert Still.

After seven weeks in the Baptist NICU, Caroline came home first on January 22, 1998, their father’s birthday, followed two days later by Jake, and two more days later by Robert.  

“Just as I felt I might be getting the hang of caring for a preemie, another one would come home,” laughed Hawthorne. 

The triplets attended St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School through third grade, before transferring to Beaches Episcopal, where Caroline was sixth-grade class valedictorian. Described as competitive and a perfectionist, but humble and thoughtful, she is the ESJ senior class salutatorian and plans to attend the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

Jake, whom Hawthorne describes as laid-back and hard to rile, is also going to UVA and plans to enter the McIntyre School of Commerce for business, while Robert will be attending The United States Military Academy at West Point, have received his appointment from Senator Marco Rubio.

The triplets were all active in sports and student government, serving as Eagle Ambassadors, which welcome incoming students to Episcopal. Additionally, Jake was a member of Youth Leadership Jax and is a group leader for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Caroline was the Daniel Club president at ESJ for two years and a Daniel Kids summer camp volunteer. Robert, whom his mother describes as a thrill-seeker, was a participant at Boys State and has helped establish it at ESJ. He loves sky diving, scuba diving, hunting, and diamond double black snow skiing, she said.

“We are a bit proud of them and somewhat biased, but I have to say they are great kids and I think DeAnna will agree that having them all leave next year is going to be tough,” said their father.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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