Tiny babies grasp her heart

Watching her best friend deliver sextuplets teaches a woman that love is boundless.

By LISA BUIE, Times Staff Writer
Published September 5, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - Jackie Joos peered through the door of the operating room at St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center over the weekend and watched her best friend make history.

First came Brady Christopher, then Eli Benjamin, Ryan Patrick, Jackson Robert, Charlie Craig and finally the only girl, MacKenzie Margaret.

"It was like watching a miracle unfold before your eyes. I can't even articulate it, it was so intense," Joos, 23, said Tuesday as she described watching Karoline Byler give birth to Florida's first set of sextuplets via caesarean section Saturday night. "We knew they were going to be premature. But they were so beautiful."

Joos visited the babies earlier this week. She thinks Eli, with his long oval face and small eyes, looks like his father, Ben Byler.

MacKenzie lay curled in a fetal position and was sleeping with her mouth open. "She looked like she was breathing on her own."

Ryan, the one still on the critical list, looked good but was on a more intense ventilator.

"I talked to them, told them I love them and we think about them and pray for them all the time," Joos said.

Brady and Eli are in fair condition, while the others are serious. The sextuplets remain in the neonatal intensive care unit at adjoining All Children's Hospital.

On Saturday, Joos had just returned from taking her 2-year-old son to a birthday party when Byler, 29, called from the hospital. Her water had broken.

Security was tight when Joos arrived at Bayfront. "The whole hospital was on lockdown," she said.

Ben Byler, 30, in a surgical gown and mask, was the only nonmedic allowed into the operating room. But officials let Joos peek in and witness the event.

She yelled to relatives standing down the hall as Dr. Karen Raimer delivered each baby, identifying them by their alphabet name - babies A through F. The Bylers decided on names Sunday.

Joos didn't expected the babies to look as fully developed as they were, given that they were born at 30 weeks. The smallest - Charlie Craig - weighed 2 pounds, 5 ounces at birth. The largest was Eli Benjamin at 3 pounds.

"I just felt so much love for the babies," Joos said. "I didn't know how much love you could feel for someone else's children."

The Bylers' relatives were allowed to see the babies and take photos as they were wheeled to the neonatal intensive care unit. "It was so incredible to see," Joos said.

No pictures of the babies have been released. The Bylers have signed an exclusive contract with Inside Edition for an undisclosed amount.

Joos and Karoline Byler have been friends for more than three years and were neighbors in the Meadow Pointe community in Pasco County. They bonded over scrapbooking and episodes of the reality TV show Big Brother.

When Joos became pregnant with her son, Logan, Byler provided support and got her involved in the Mom's Club, for which Byler served as president. Byler stepped down and gave the job to vice president Joos after learning she was carrying sextuplets. Once, when Logan got sick in the middle of the night, Joos phoned Byler.

"She threw on her clothes and came over," Joos said.

She visited her friend in the hospital earlier this week. Byler had a few rough days but got to hold Eli on Monday night. Before she comes home, Joos will clean the house and put fresh linens on the beds to help the Bylers as they prepare to deal with a crush of media. She hopes reporters and the public will be respectful.

"To us, it's a news story," Joos said. "To them, it's their family."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Fast facts

Condition levels

Critical: Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.

Serious: Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.

Fair: Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.

Good: Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.

* Stable is sometimes used as a synonym for fair. It is also used to specify conditions, including "critical but stable" or "serious but stable."

Source: American Hospital Association