TWO families celebrated their own little miracles at Croydon University Hospital when two sets of triplets were born just 24 hours apart.
The incredibly rare coincidence left staff, who had "never seen anything like it" at the hospital, amazed as only around 200 sets of triplets are born across the UK each year.
First-time parents Kevin and Farahnaz Field beat odds of 8,000 to one when they discovered they were having natural triplets.
Their non-identical girls, Shanaya, Zahra and Katrina, were born by a scheduled caesarean just before 11am on Thursday, June 5.
And exactly 24 hours after the Field family welcomed the arrival of their three new members, Manda and Ken Johnston, from South Croydon, had three of their own to celebrate.
Proud dad Kevin, 43, showed pictures of his three new daughters to Manda, who was in hospital as a precaution – but she wasn't expected to have her boys for another two weeks.
"I saw the pictures of them, which was really lovely," said Manda, 36. "Then I laid down and started to read my book. My waters broke and I thought 'Uh oh, I think I need to press the buzzer'."
Toby, Luke and Elliott were all delivered by emergency caesarean the next morning at just 32 weeks old – eight weeks premature and two weeks earlier than normal for triplets.
Little Luke was just 2lb 13oz when he arrived and doctors fought to help him after he suffered complications with his breathing.
Manda said: "He was quite ill when he was born. He had a collapsed lung three times in the first couple of days and had to have three chest drains.
"He's just needed a little bit of oxygen to help since but now he's doing very, very well.
"It was quite hard because I wasn't able to hold him until he was two weeks old, but now he screams even louder than his two brothers."
All the babies spent time in the hospital's specialist neonatal care unit before being allowed home at the start of July – the Fields back to Ringwood Avenue, Broad Green, and the Johnstons to South Croydon.
Ken, 39, said he was "loving" being a new dad. "It's tough when I go to work but when I get home I take over so Manda can have a good rest," he said.
Both dads insisted they were doing their bit with the nappy changes.
"When you've got three there's no way that you can get away with it. It needs more than one pair of hands to change them, sometimes even two pairs isn't enough," said Kevin, who works for the RAC. The two families have now vowed to keep in touch via Facebook, Kevin added.
Gina Brockwell, consultant midwife at Croydon University Hospital, said staff were "amazed" at the coincidence. "We might get triplets maybe once a year, so no-one has ever seen anything like this before here," she said.
"When the girls were born on the Thursday it was lovely and all the staff were very pleased and happy that they came as planned and all was well, but we weren't quite expecting Manda to have the boys so soon.
"It was just a case of carrying on
and making sure she and the boys had the same care as Farahnaz and the girls had.
"Chris Vickery, our neonatal nurse, even came in on her day off to make sure everything went smoothly. She just shows the dedication when our staff will come in to ensure everything the families needed was here."
Happiness after heartbreak
KEVIN met Farahnaz in 2012, shortly after she moved to the UK from Mauritius and the couple married later that year.
They suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage in March 2013 but tried again for children. By November, they had the happy news: Farahnaz was pregnant again.
"When we went to the clinic, the face of lady who did the scan suddenly changed and she said 'wow, I've never seen this before'," said Kevin. "We didn't know whether to laugh or cry when she said there were three. Obviously, being our first children we didn't know what to expect."
Shanaya, Zahra and Katrina were all allowed home after 21 days in the specialist care unit.
Stay-at-home mum Farahnaz, 37, said her daughters were keeping her busy and sleep had become a precious commodity.
"Sometimes it's difficult if they all wake up together – they make a bit of a racket when they're all upset at the same time," she said.
"It's really quite hard work when they're all hungry. It takes about two hours to feed them all."
The triplets were all starting to show their own little personalities, she added.
"Zahra is the quietest, but Katrina we nicknamed 'patience' because she hasn't got any."
IVF treatment pays off
KEN and Manda Johnston went through a tough time trying for children, Manda eventually conceiving after IVF treatment.
The couple, who have been together for 16 years, raised Manda's 16-year-old daughter Hannah Darke together, but wanted more children.
Manda said she suffered multiple complications while trying for children.
"We went through quite a lot, I had two miscarriages and three ectopic pregnancies," she explained.
Then family tragedy struck when Manda's father Ron died, but he left them a blessing in his will – money to pay for the IVF.
"When we went to the clinic for the scan, we had an idea there was more than one, but we certainly weren't expecting it to be three," said Manda.
"When we found out it was a bit of a shock, an amazing one, but still a shock," added Ken.
Because of her previous complications, Manda was admitted to Croydon University Hospital at 24 weeks pregnant, so when her boys decided to come two weeks early on June 6 she was in the right place.
She spent three days in hospital herself to recover from the emergency surgery while Luke was allowed home at 23 days, Toby at 28 days and finally Elliot at 35.
"In some ways we had it much easier than Farahnaz and Keith," said Manda. "They took them all home at the same time. I had a chance to get used to having the three one by one."
Hannah said it was "a bit scary" to suddenly have three little brothers.
"I'm getting locks on my bedroom door, and definitely soundproofing it all," she said.