Mother knows best: Quadruplets thriving 14 years after mom was told she couldn't carry them

This family portrait of the Regulacion quadruplets is still on display in the family's living room. Shown here are, L to R, Issabella, Madison, Elijah and Hannah. After five unsuccessful fertility treatments, Michelle and Rey Regulacion wondered if their dream of having a child together would ever come true.

But when they attempted in-vitro fertilization for the sixth time, they received news no future parent could be prepared for: Michelle was pregnant with quadruplets.

The mom-to-be broke into tears, both happy she was finally pregnant, and terrified she was carrying so many children at once. Her husband steadied himself, trying not to faint as he pictured four newborns in their small, two-bedroom mobile home in Callahan, Fla.

With Michelle’s petite frame, their doctor was convinced the pregnancy was impossible: Michelle would need to abort at least two of the babies if she wanted to see any of them survive. But after trying so hard to conceive, Michelle wasn’t willing to give up on any of her children. She and Rey believed it should be left in God’s hands.

Michelle called a mother of triplets for advice, and that woman recommended going to UF Health Jacksonville instead.

One of only two Level III regional referral centers in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has specialized equipment and highly trained caregivers to meet the unique needs of a newborn child who is ill or premature. In addition, the hospital’s maternal-fetal medicine specialists assist moms-to-be dealing with higher risk pregnancies.

“We called their High-Risk Pregnancy department, and they were extremely supportive. Our doctor made a promise to us that he would get me to 28 weeks (gestation), when the kids would have a 98-percent chance of surviving,” Michelle recalled.

Four bundles of joy

It would be a long, hard road to get to that benchmark. As the four babies grew inside her, Michelle became extremely exhausted. Even lifting her arm was too difficult. After she reached 20 weeks gestation, she was placed on bed rest and spent more nights in the hospital than she did at home. Belly measurements – which help doctors determine how many weeks along a patient is in her pregnancy – showed Michelle’s body was the size of someone whose due date had passed 8 weeks prior. Her body continuously tried to go into labor while physicians employed various medications to stop it.

But each treatment eventually lost its effectiveness, and then Michelle’s health began to deteriorate: There was fluid in her lungs, and her heart was enlarged. Finally, just a few days before she hit the 28-week mark, Michelle was told it was time for a cesarian delivery. Her body was under too much stress. Knowing her babies had stayed in the womb longer than most quadruplets, Michelle accepted her doctors’ advice.

On Dec. 3, 1999, Issabella, Elijah, Hannah and Madison Regulacion came into the world. Each weighed less than two pounds and had a lot of growing left to do.

“When a baby is born at 27 weeks, he’s at the same stage he would be inside his mother, so he has to finish developing,” explained Sue Amole, RN, one of the NICU nurses who took care of the babies. “It’s not just their lungs that need to develop. It’s the brain, kidneys, skin, intestinal tract. Our job is to do everything we can to help them develop as though they were still inside their mother.”

Premature babies have to eat, but their stomachs aren’t ready for food because they were supposed to be nourished through their mother for several more weeks. They have to breathe, but their lungs aren’t yet ready for air. Their skin is so delicate that they can’t be handled and carried around like a full-term baby. And, perhaps most difficult of all for parents, their brains aren’t ready for the stimulation of being held or even touched.

“They have very fragile brains. When they’re overstimulated, it affects their breathing, circulation, everything,” said Wendy Knight, RN, another NICU nurse who cared for the babies.

It can be so frustrating for parents that sometimes they limit their time in the hospital while their babies grow. But that wasn’t the case with the Regulacions.

A parent’s love

“I remember getting there at 8 every morning, and I would stay until 1 or 2 a.m. I just couldn’t leave them. I trusted the nurses, but I needed to know what was going on,” Michelle said.

Each child was assigned a doctor and a team of residents. They also had specific nurses assigned to them, and they became like family.

“They may as well have been their babies, too. Our nurses took parental ownership and were very protective. Whenever anything happened, they made sure we were involved immediately,” Rey recalled.

Even though they couldn’t hold their children, Michelle and Rey’s presence made a difference.

“You would be amazed how much it helps the babies when their parents are here,” Knight said.

It also helped the babies to be near each other.

“That’s something to be said about multiples,” Rey said. “When they were born, Issabella, Elijah and Hannah were together on one side of the NICU, but there wasn’t room there for Madison, and Madison was the one who ended up doing bad. When they did move her by the others, she started climbing the ladder.”

During her time in the NICU, Madison suffered collapsed lungs and required chest tubes. Although she was the heaviest of the four when she was born, weighing in at 1 lb. 11.5 ounces, she was the last to go home.

Issabella’s health also faltered when she developed meningitis two weeks after she was born. The bacterial infection spread to her left eye. Antibiotics eliminated it, but Issabella lost vision in that eye. It was the only long-term effect premature birth had on the four children.

The Regulacion family today, including, L to R, Issabella, Elijah, Hannah and Madison with their parents, Ray and Michelle, behind them. A four-baby “assembly line”

Elijah and Hannah were the first to go home, and then Issabella followed. Madison finally joined her siblings, and at last the family was in one place. The nurses prepared the Regulacions with training in infant care, a schedule to follow for the children’s feedings and an apnea and bradycardia machine to monitor each child’s breathing.

The Regulacions knew who to call if they had any problems: One of the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville residents who had taken care of the Regulacion children, Elmarie Sabban, MD, completed her pediatric residency and joined a new Fernandina Beach practice just as the children were going home.

“That was a gift from God,” Michelle said, noting the children still go to Sabban. “We didn’t have to explain each child’s medical history from the past three months. She already knew.”

Over the next two years, the family was in survival mode as they took care of their four babies. Michelle said it was almost like having her own day care, except there was never a quitting time.

“I don’t remember leaving the house at all for two years. Most days, I literally didn’t even make it out of my pajamas because there just wasn’t time,” she said.

Rey, who was a paramedic, came home from 24-hour shifts ready to take over childcare duties while Michelle finally slept.

He remembers handling the four babies almost like an assembly line.

“We found our own little system. At feeding time, we lined up their four highchairs. Then we had baths, diaper changes. The system took the entire day, and then you just collapsed into bed for a few hours and got ready to start it all over again the next day,” he said.

Those days were physically tough, but they still loved every minute of them. Now, the four children are bright, lively, athletic 14-year-olds, and the Regulacions say these days are even more challenging.

“They’re teenagers, and we’re dealing with four very different personalities,” said Michelle, who juggles their schedules while working as a Nassau County Sheriff’s deputy. “We’re always running around to football, baseball, basketball, cheerleading. Someone needs to go shopping. Someone needs a new curling iron, someone needs mascara.”

The famous foursome

Elijah is the scholar of the group, earning straight As in school. He’s also an athlete, playing on his school’s football, basketball and baseball teams. Issabella and Hannah are cheerleaders who just claimed two of the three coveted spots on West Nassau High School’s varsity squad for their upcoming freshman year. Madison is the “tomboy,” playing softball and basketball, running track and enjoying airsoft wars and fishing much more than her sisters’ girly interests.

The foursome is famous in school because they are quadruplets. They are each very different, but each supports the others. Whether cheering each other on at sporting events or helping each other with homework, they’re a close-knit group.

“The girls are really close when they triple-team me,” Elijah joked, drawing laughs from his sisters.

Every Mother’s Day, the quadruplets work together to honor their mother with a homemade feast, gifts and cards to thank her for going through so much to have them.

“She’s a strong, brave woman. I don’t know how she did it,” Issabella said.

Michelle has no regrets about taking on the difficult pregnancy.

“I couldn’t imagine my life without all four of them. They’re just four awesome kids. And everything my husband and I do, we do it for them,” she said.

A powerful team

Despite the theory that having multiples puts a strain on marriages, Michelle and Rey only grew closer through the challenges of raising quadruplets.

“She and I always wanted children, and that common bond was thicker than either of us could have imagined,” Rey said.

“It added to our marriage,” Michelle added. “He couldn’t have done it without me, and I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Rey said there are just a few people he refers to as his heroes, and Michelle is number one.

“I don’t know anybody else that could have sustained any sanity of any sort. Some people would bend and bend and break, but she didn’t. She’s one tough gal,” he said.

One of the best qualities he sees in his children is their ability to love and show compassion for others, and he said that comes from their mother.

Still saying “Thank You”

Over the years, the Regulacions have made many return visits to UF Health Jacksonville, but not for medical reasons. They come only to thank the staff once again for giving the children the best shot at life in those critical weeks after they were born.

The NICU team is made up of board-certified University of Florida neonatologists - doctors specializing in newborns - as well as pediatric surgeons, neonatal nurse practitioners, neonatal physician assistants, neonatal transport specialists, neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists and other specially trained staff who are available 24 hours a day.

Rey said he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to other parents expecting multiples.

“I would tell them to trust God and trust the staff up there, because He blessed them with some incredible knowledge and skills,” he said.

You can support the NICU while having some fun:

If you love golf, you can attend one of the world’s most prestigious golf competitions while showing your support for the NICU, which is an official charity of The Players Championship this year. When you purchase tickets at www.chipinforyouth.com, $25 of every ticket fee will be donated to the NICU. Use the code UFHEALTHJAX when ordering. All orders must be in before April 18. The Players is May 5-11 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.


For more information, please contact:
UF Health Media Relations
904-244-3268

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