Adding even more complexity, Ami Susan—who had grown up the youngest of four—learned she had a genetic blood-clotting disorder that might have prevented the twins from getting an adequate blood supply. So she went on blood-thinning medication. Her mother, Jeannie, worried that her daughter might be putting her life in jeopardy.
In late 2005, having resumed fertilization treatments, Ami Susan learned she was pregnant, this time with triplets.
From the outset, physicians believed that her multiple pregnancy posed too high a risk to her and the three babies. One doctor suggested that the couple consider selective reduction to give one or two of the babies a better chance of surviving.
They were torn. Ami Susan realized that, at age 39 and with an array of medical issues, she would probably have no more chances to bear children after this. She and Michael knew that if they didn’t terminate any of the triplets, they could lose them all. But they couldn’t bear the thought of eliminating one. They wrestled with the moral and medical implications and decided not to end the life of any of them.
Ami Susan took every precaution during the pregnancy, including enforced bed rest. At seven months, doctors decided it was time to deliver by cesarean section. When the boys were born at Shady Grove Hospital, they ranged in weight from a little more than three pounds (Aiden) to nearly six (Bricen).
A complication arose at delivery when Ami Susan developed eclampsia, a condition that caused her blood pressure to soar. She also suffered edema and major blood loss, and her hemoglobin—the blood cells that carry oxygen—dropped precipitously.
She required three blood transfusions. Fluid collected in her lungs; she was unable to walk on her own and temporarily lost her vision. For a while, her life hung in the balance as doctors battled her problems.
As her condition improved, she was released from the hospital, but at home she still had difficulty seeing. She also experienced another rise in her blood pressure, and doctors nearly readmitted her to the hospital.
Treated at home, her hemoglobin improved and her blood pressure stabilized; she gradually grew strong enough to walk. She required another blood transfusion and took iron supplements long after she had gone home. Her mother had come up from Florida for the birth of the triplets and remained to help Michael take care of Ami Susan while she recovered.
The triplets’ lungs weren’t fully developed, and they remained in the neonatal intensive-care unit at Shady Grove for about three weeks.
As they grew into energetic toddlers, the triplets became celebrities in their Bethesda neighborhood—“a bundle of scrumptiousness,” neighbor Ruth Hartmann called the boys. They played in the front yard of their home, running and yelling and littering the lawn with toys. They chatted with neighbors and developed distinct personalities.
Michael and Ami Susan nicknamed Aiden, the smallest of the three, Mighty Mouse. Wiry and strong, he became the “little engineer” with a knack for taking things apart and putting them together—as well as for testing how far he could push his parents. They called Bricen Houdini because there was no swaddle he couldn’t escape from. He was also the little caregiver, always making sure his brothers were all right. Coleson, the tallest, loved to snuggle—they called him Coley Bear—but he also became a take-charge boy. “I could always picture Coleson with a girl on each arm being a NASCAR driver,” Hartmann says.
Ami Susan had left for Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, December 1, to attend a conference at the Four Seasons Hotel. In addition to her own consulting business, PartnersPlus, she had become a consultant for the Carlisle Collection, a women’s-clothing company. This allowed her to set her hours and spend the time she needed with her children. The boys had mild developmental delays because of their premature birth; besides giving them baths and reading and singing to them, Ami Susan drove them to therapy appointments. She loved being a mother.
She had planned to leave for home that Wednesday around 4 pm and had already packed. She hadn’t yet talked with Michael that day, so she kept her cell phone on. When it rang, she left the conference room and stepped into a hallway.
She heard Rosa’s panic-stricken voice, first in English, then in Spanish. Ami Susan at first thought Rosa was trying to tell her about something that had happened to her own family.
“Rosa, please speak more slowly,” Ami Susan said.
Rosa managed to convey that there was a fire at the house and ran to put her cell phone to Michael’s ear as he punched at the dining-room windows.
“What’s happening?” Ami Susan asked.
“Ami Susan, come home! Our house is on fire! Come home now!”
She’d never heard her husband sound that way.
“Are the kids all right?”
“No. They’re inside. I tried to get them out, but I couldn’t get to them.”
She heard Michael call out to the arriving firefighters, and the phone went dead. The people in the conference room heard her scream in the hallway.
“Help!” she said as she burst into the room. “My husband just told me our house is on fire and they can’t get to our kids!”
People rushed to help her. Driving would be the fastest way to get back to Washington. Two other consultants who had accompanied Ami Susan to Philadelphia, Susan Amaro and Kristy Gavin, also were packed and ready to go. Before leaving the hotel, Ami Susan tried to reach Michael but got no response. Then she phoned a neighbor, Penny Jones.
Penny and Jim Jones, who live across the street, had gone outside when the first fire truck arrived. Michael, covered with soot, his hands bleeding, approached them. All he said was “My boys are in there!”