Three years after tying the knot, Jason and Clarissa Osborn wanted what any couple wants—to start a family.
After welcoming their son Carter in 2013, Clarissa developed brain tumors that required radiation treatment and prevented her from conceiving naturally.
Still, the couple wanted to grow their family and give Carter a brother or sister.
With the help of IUI (intrauterine insemination), Clarissa was able to become pregnant with their second child, a daughter, named Shanna.
But at her 20-week ultrasound, the Osborns learned their perfect little angel had a rare heart defect caused by a chromosomal condition called 22q11. Doctors prepared the parents for their daughter to have open heart surgery just days after birth.
All went well, and baby Shanna was brought home to meet her big brother, Carter, just one month after she was born in April 2016.
“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.”
They ran to check on their daughter, who stopped breathing moments later. Jason performed CPR on Shanna until paramedics arrived.
“They tried and tried to resuscitate her,” says Clarissa, “but it was too late.”
Shanna died from the congenital heart defect just three months after she was born.
Jason and Clarissa were devastated. There was a permanent hole in their family.
But just six months later, the couple was overjoyed to learn of their miracle pregnancy.
This time, Clarissa was expecting quadruplets, and all four babies were girls.
The community rallied, and the Osborns were showered with four of everything: four bassinets, four high chairs, four car seats, four strollers, and an endless supply of formula and diapers.
Then on June 11, 2017, just 11 months after losing sweet Shanna, Clarissa went into labor at 23 weeks.
An emergency C-section meant the quadruplets, Kylie, Ellie, Savannah and Lexi, were all born weighing less than one pound.
All four baby girls died within three days of each other.
“We were able to say goodbye to them all, and we were grateful for that,” Jason told 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.”
Knowing how emotionally difficult it would be to return home to all of those baby items waiting for four little girls that would never see them, the family arranged for someone to collect everything and donate it. An organization called Intermountain Healing Hearts helped gift the items to families who have babies born with heart defects like Shanna.
“It was important to us to pay it forward somehow,” Clarissa says.
In wake of tragedy, the couple has launched an initiative to honor the five daughters they lost in the last 11 months.
They started the Shanna K. Osborn Foundation, which will award $500 educational scholarships to college students every year 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 says. “It’s a way to keep them in our lives and keep their memories alive, and bring smiles instead of pain.”
The couple says it’s the overwhelming support of family, friends and strangers who’ve learned about their journey that has helped “pull” them through. Jason says it made them realize they still have a lot of living left to do.
“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.”