HOLDREGE, Neb. — The living room décor at a Holdrege home across the street from Dairy Queen says a lot about who lives there.
A rainbow-colored fabric tube is the right size for a child to crawl through. There are scattered Transformers, and a pint-size drum sits near the door. Mickey Mouse’s computer game voice can be heard even above the chatter of four preschoolers.
However, what’s on the wall behind the couch best defines the family. Next to homemade colored pictures is a mirror with these words on it: Miracles are gifts from above.
Rachel and Lee Woollen have plural miracles. Their quadruplets, Brett, Kaden, Parker and Cooper, will be 5 years old Monday.
Rachel expects about 40 people to attend Sunday’s birthday party at the Wilcox Town Hall.
“I’m making the cakes this year. Everyone has their requests,” she said, turning the conversation over to the children to excitedly recite their choices: Spiderman for Kaden, Thomas the Tank Engine for Cooper, Cinderella for Parker and the Bumblebee Transformer for Brett.
“I’m not cake-savvy,” Rachel said, explaining that the four square cakes will be simply decorated with toy figures of those four characters.
Even a first birthday seemed more of a hope or dream than a real possibility when the three boys and a girl were born Feb. 11, 2008, at just 23 weeks’ gestation. They were about 17 weeks early.
Each baby spent four months or more in the newborn intensive care unit at the Nebraska Medical Center.
A Nebraska Medical Center press release issued a week after the Woollen quads’ first birthday said they were believed to be the world’s youngest set of surviving quadruplets.
Using an outcomes calculator for extremely premature births from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Neonatal Research Network, the Nebraska Medical Center staff concluded that there was a 3.4 percent probability of all four Woollen babies surviving.
The chance of all four surviving without moderate or major development problems was 0.03 percent.
Rachel said Kaden has mild cerebral palsy that affects his feet. “They are definitely the smallest kids in (Little Duster Pre-School). Eventually, they’ll catch up,” she said.
“I think we just got lucky. It’s just definitely an act of God that we have these miracles.”
There were times when the quads required about 30 diapers and 28 bottles a day. “I always say that potty training was the worst thing I’ve dealt with,” she said. “It was a good six months from the first kid to the last kid.”
Now, putting enough food on the table is the challenge.
“Oh gosh, let’s see. I think I send Lee to the store about three times a week for milk, maybe 5 gallons,” Rachel said. “I already cook a lot of food. I think, ‘What will we do when they’re all in sports?’”
The mornings spent at preschool Monday through Thursday have been the quads’ first long separation from their parents.
“They’re definitely more outgoing and more comfortable being away from me,” Rachel said.
When asked what they like about school, the quads all talked at once and so fast that their mother couldn’t understand them. Rachel picked out words about popcorn and learning numbers from a calendar.
She said she has most enjoyed seeing the bond her children have developed.
“Of course they drive each other crazy like other kids,” she said. “But they stand up for each other, and they feel bad if someone is sad. They entertain each other, and I’m never bored.”