After losing their second child, Shanna, to a congenital heart defect three months after she was born, Jason and Clarissa Osborn of Spanish Fork, Utah, were overjoyed six months later to learn that they were expecting quadruplet daughters with the help of infertility treatments.
Through baby showers put on by friends, family and viewers of a local television show, Random Acts, they filled their home with four of everything: four bassinets, four high chairs, four strollers, four car seats and case after case of formula and diapers.
Then, on June 11 this summer, they were hit once again with heartache.
Clarissa, 28, went into labor in her 23rd week of pregnancy, requiring an emergency C-section. Kylie, Ellie, Savannah and Lexi, who were each born weighing less than one pound, all died within three days of each other.
“We were able to say goodbye to them all, and we were grateful for that,” Jason, 32, who works in human resources for Nestle, tells PEOPLE. “But after already losing one daughter, to lose another four was heart-wrenching. I kept thinking, ‘Why all four? Couldn’t just one have made it?’ It was extremely difficult to realize that none of them were coming home.”
“I knew that it would be emotionally hard to go home and see all of those baby things piled up,” adds Clarissa, a homemaker, with one son, Carter, 4. “So we arranged to have somebody come and get everything and donate it to families who have babies born with heart defects like Shanna, through a charity called Intermountain Healing Hearts. It was important to us to pay it forward somehow.”
Now the Osborns have decided to honor the five daughters they lost within 11 months an additional way: They started the Shanna K. Osborn Foundation to award $500 educational scholarships every year to college students who have survived heart defects.
“We wanted our daughters to go to college, so this is a way for us to follow some other young people through their journey and support them, even though we don’t have our little girls,” Jason tells PEOPLE. “It’s a way to keep them in our lives and keep their memories alive, and bring smiles instead of pain.”
The Osborns, who met when they were attending college at Brigham Young University-Idaho, dreamed of having a large family after they married in 2010. Then, shortly after their son was born in 2013, Clarissa developed brain tumors that required radiation treatment and affected her ability to conceive naturally again.
Through IUI (intrauterine insemination) treatment, Clarissa was soon pregnant with Shanna and discovered at her 20-week ultrasound that her daughter had a rare heart defect caused by a rare chromosome condition called 22q11. “We were told she would require open heart surgery a few days after she was born,” she tells PEOPLE.
Born four months later on April 17, 2016, Shanna spent a month in the hospital after surgery, then the Osborns took her home to meet her older brother.
“Carter got to love on her and was thrilled to have a little sister,” says Clarissa. “Things were going well. Then one Sunday morning, we awoke to a cry we had never heard before.”
She and Jason ran to check on Shanna, who felt cold to the touch. Minutes later, the infant stopped breathing, so Jason performed CPR until paramedics arrived to race her to the hospital. “They tried and tried to resuscitate her,” says Clarissa, “but it was too late.”
To endure four times the sorrow with the deaths of the quads was numbing, she says, with her and Jason waking up daily to “raw hearts and pain.”
Overwhelming support from family, friends and strangers who learned about their plight on a Facebook page they’d started to remember their daughters, “helped pull us through and made us realize we still had a lot of living to do,” Jason tells PEOPLE.
“There are tough nights when we wish we still had our five little girls,” he says, “so it’s therapeutic to talk about them and remember the brief time they were with us and felt our love. Remembering that has been very healing.”