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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gaither quints celebrate 25 years

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For many people it seems like only yesterday that Indianapolis’ own Gaither quintuplets — Ashlee, Brandon, Joshua, Renee and Rhealyn made history when they were born on August 3, 1983. Now, over two decades later, they are successful adults raising their own families.

On Monday the nation’s first set of African American quintuplets celebrated a significant milestone — their 25th birthday.

A special program was held at Riley Hospital for Children, where over 100 people gathered, including hospital staff, family and longtime friends. They sang “Happy Birthday,” listened to reflections from those who watched the quintuplets grow up and enjoyed five cakes customized for each of the siblings.

“It’s nice having everyone join us for this milestone,” said Joshua. “Being 25 is wonderful because a lot of people, especially during these times, don’t reach that age.”

The Gaither quintuplets attracted worldwide attention when they were born at Indiana University Hospital at a collective weight of 19 pounds, 3 ounces. They were the first surviving set of Black quintuplets that were conceived naturally, without the aid of fertility drugs.

A few days after their birth they were transferred to Riley for advanced neonatal care, and staff members there were overjoyed to see them return 25 years later.

“This is a very awesome occasion, I’m really just speechless,” said Rich Schreiner, physician-in-chief for Riley Riley.

Schreiner, who worked on the team at Riley that cared for the Gaither children shortly after their birth, noted that not all of the quintuplets were expected to survive.

However, thanks to the work of a medical team led by Dr. James Lemons the Gaither children avoided or survived various medical complications and went on to cause a national sensation, starring in commercials for McDonald’s, appearing on national television talk shows and interacting with celebrities such as basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Rev. Jesse Jackson

“It’s really overwhelming seeing them at this stage of their lives,” said Schreiner.

Parents Sidney and Suzanne did everything possible to provide the quintuplets- and their older brother Ryan- a happy and normal childhood.

Suzanne Gaither said “God chose us to have this blessing” for a special reason.

“It wasn’t always easy, but we’re grateful to have had six wonderful kids who have the common sense to do what’s right,” added Sidney.

Their efforts were successful, as the quintuplets are now on a positive track in life. They are all still living in Indianapolis and taking classes for various majors at Ivy Tech Community College.

Brandon is active as a musician at the family’s longtime church home, Zion Tabernacle Apostolic Church and is looking forward to a degree in engineering, Ashlee works in the restaurant industry and Renee is an environmental services associate at Riley.

Brandon, Joshua and Rhealyn are all married. Rhealyn has three children-two daughters and a son, and Brandon has a one-year-old daughter. Joshua, who got married two weeks ago, has a daughter on the way.

“It’s really a blessing for all of us,” said Brandon. “You really can’t take anything for granted. We recently lost some of our relatives, but we’re still here.”

Renee Gaither was less joyous about her new age, saying jokingly how it is just one more step closer to 30.

“It doesn’t really feel like a special milestone to me,” she said, laughing. “I feel really old right now.”

Dull and quiet moments were rare in the Gaither household when the quintuplets were growing up, and they had their fair share of fights and sibling rivalries like other kids.

They have always, however, been close, and shared memorable experiences such as prom dances and weddings . They still make time to get together every weekend, usually for dinner at various restaurants. They will soon travel to Louisville Ky., together to visit an aunt.

Ashlee noted that even as the family continues to expand, the siblings will always make it a priority to stay current with each other.

“We’re fortunate because not too many large families are as close as we are,” she stated.

“It’s been going great for all of us,” added Joshua. “We still have each other and we’re all doing well. Who could ask for anything more?”

Relatives of Dr. Frank Johnson, who delivered the quintuplets, gladly came in from out of town to participate in the Gaither birthday celebration.

Augustania Haydel, one of Johnson’s daughters, said her father, who died in 2003, would be delighted to see how the quintuplets have turned out.

“He would be ecstatic,” said Haydel, who attended with her sister Berenecea Eanes. “He was happy and excited to have the opportunity to deliver them.”

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