First triplets born at MSA Hospital in Abbotsford turn 60

Trio reunite on Jan. 1 and 2 for milestone birthdays

Triplets (from left) Debbie Vinzani

Triplets (from left) Debbie Vinzani

The yellowed newspaper clipping shows the beaming mom cradling three crying baby girls as the headline proclaims “New Year’s Triplets at MSA Hospital.”

The first baby arrived at 11:09 p.m. on Jan. 1, and “tipped the scales” at 6 lbs. 6.5 oz., according to the accompanying article.

The second baby was born 44 minutes after midnight and weighed 6 lbs. 5 oz., while the third arrived at 1:02 a.m., weighing 7 lbs. 8.5 oz.

Those triplets – the first ever born at the former MSA Hospital in Abbotsford – celebrated their 60th birthday this week.

In order of birth, the Fadden triplets were named Della June, Donna Jean and Debbie Joe.

Today, they are known as Della Janzen of Everett, Wash.; Donna Redekop of Abbotsford; and Debbie Vinzani of China.

They were brought together over the last week to celebrate their first birthday together in many years, including a visit with their 95-year-old mom Josephine, who resides in Lynden, Wash.

They still marvel at their 1957 birth in an era when fertility treatments were non-existent and multiple births – particularly triplets and more – were uncommon.

Also astonishing is that their mom carried them to 36 weeks’ gestation – considered full-term for triplets – without any complications, despite their combined birth weight of more than 20 pounds.

Josephine and husband Bruce Fadden – a member of one of the oldest pioneer families of Sumas Prairie – met at church in Sumas, Wash., where Josephine lived at the time.

After their marriage, they lived in Sumas, where they operated a farm. They had three children – ages five, three and almost two – when Josephine became pregnant again.

A few months into her pregnancy, Josephine grew worried about all the movement in her belly.

“She thought she was having an octopus,” Della laughs.

Ultrasound technology was not available in those days, and an X-ray was performed seven months into the pregnancy to check on the baby’s progress. When the results were available, the doctor told Josephine that she should sit down.

“Is everything OK?” she asked.

“You’re having triplets,” he informed her.

Josephine let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought I was having a monster!”

But after leaving the doctor’s office, the news hit her and she drove to the house of a friend who lived close by.

“I’m having triplets!” she exclaimed to her friend, as she collapsed in tears.

The pregnancy progressed without incident, and the babies were delivered with just one doctor and one nurse present at MSA Hospital – the closest facility to where the family lived.

The hospital prepared for the risky birth by purchasing two additional incubators to go with the one they had on hand, in case the babies experienced any health complications, but the equipment was not needed.

Their first year at home was chaotic, but a daily stream of visitors anxious to see the baby triplets ensured there was usually somebody around to help with feedings.

Josephine and Bruce even advertised to find help in the care of their six little ones, to no avail.

“Who in their right mind wants to come help a mom with six young kids (including) three babies?” Debbie laughs.

They say their dad, who passed away in 2000, became an expert diaper-changer and bottle-feeder. They are in awe of all that their mom did over the years, including working on the farm, gardening, baking bread, making their clothes and caring for so many kids, including the birth of a seventh child four years after the triplets.

“She’s my hero,” Della says.

The triplets say they shared a special relationship over the years, but Debbie sometimes felt left out. Donna and Della are identical in appearance – born with dark hair and dark eyes – while Debbie had blonde hair and light eyes.

One day when she was young, she approached her mom with a question: “What’s wrong with me? Why am I different?”

Josephine explained that Debbie had a very special role in their relationship: “If it wasn’t for you, they’d only be twins.”

Debbie says that statement has remained with her over the years and has reinforced her unique kinship with her sisters.

For their milestone 60th birthdays on Jan. 1 and 2, they didn’t celebrate with a flashy party or expensive get-away.

Instead, they spent the occasion with their mom and four siblings – three of whom live in Washington and one who lives in Surrey – because, they say, being together as a family is what matters most.