They were born facing the most incredible obstacles, but triplets Madeline, Macey and Mackenzie have achieved more in the past 10 years than most people do in a lifetime.
Their parents had drug problems and didn't see a doctor during the pregnancy. Macey and Mackenzie were born conjoined, attached at the pelvis with a shared, third leg and entwined intestines. Unable to care for their daughters, all three were placed in foster care. And, as their case worker Linda Kontis confesses: "Nobody wanted these babies."
Until Darla and Jeff Garrison came along.
The couple were already parents to three sons, but had always wanted daughters. So when they got the call from Linda in December 2002 asking if they would consider fostering the girls, they put aside their fears and said yes.
Their decision lead to many difficult years as the family coped with babies suffering severe medical problems. The twins had a colostomy bag that needed frequent changing, they cried in pain from the tissue expanders implanted in their backs and abdomens in preparation for planned separation surgery and suffered from speech and learning delays.
Even dressing the babies was tricky. Darla's mother would sew two onesies together and make a hole for the third leg. "There were times I had my hand on the phone, thinking, 'I'm not cut out to do this,'" Darla admits.
On September 10, 2003, doctors at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles successfully separated Macey and Mackenzie in an arduous 24-hour surgery. Two years later, the Garrisons formally adopted the girls and moved their family to farm in Iowa.
Now, inspired by her experience in raising the triplets, Darla has commenced studying for a degree in physical therapy. It's been a bit adjustment for the family, but the girls are coping admirably.
"I see them actually maturing," says Darla. "Now that I'm in school, I'm not as available, and they've really stepped up. They're pretty proud of that. They do a lot for 10-year-olds, really."
Still, there are challenges – the girls are growing so rapidly that they've needed new prostheses three times in the past 12 months. They also both have colostomy bags that require frequent changing.
"That's a lot of responsibility for a kid to make sure everything’s intact and they're not going to run into some trouble when they're out somewhere," says Darla. "The positive is that modern medicine has allowed them to be alive."