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‘Full circle’: Triplets born at Strong join Class of 2022

August 21, 2018
three students, holding another picture of themselves as children, dressed in bumblee costumesFrom left, Matthew ’22, Nicole ’22 and Robert Gelb ’22 hold a photo of themselves as kindergartners dressed as Yellowjackets. Now the triplets are among the newest University of Rochester Yellowjackets, joining the Class of 2022 directly across the street from the hospital where they spent the first three months of their lives. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Jay and Sandra Gelb ‘89 became parents on the morning of November 12, 1999.

And again, four hours later.

And again, five minutes after that.

The triplets were born at 29 weeks gestation—11 weeks premature—and weighed a combined 6.3 pounds.

“They were so small you could hold one in your hand,” Jay says.

Doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital called the triplets Baby A, Baby B, and Baby C, and cautioned the parents not to give them real names for several weeks. They had less than a 50 percent chance of survival, and the bereavement for “named” infants would be longer and more painful, they cautioned.

“At 29 weeks, there’s no real viability,” Sandra says. “It was a very scary time.”

The triplets spent three months at Strong’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Sandra took the day shift, and Jay stayed nights.

“Finally,” Jay says, “we got to take our babies home.”

This month, 19 years later, Matthew, Nicole, and Robert will enroll at the University of Rochester as part of the Class of 2022—literally across the street from where they were born.

“It feels like we’ve come full circle,” Nicole says. “We’re NICU graduates.”

Serving the community

All three applied to and were admitted Early Decision to Rochester’s largest and most competitive Early Decision cohort yet. As members of the Class of 2022, they’ll be part of the most selective class ever to enter the College, from among a record 20,000-plus applicants.

Matthew and Robert will enroll in the Barry Florescue Undergraduate Business Program, aspiring to follow their father into the banking business. Nicole plans to become a special education teacher. All three have been avid swimmers since age five and plan to join Rochester’s varsity team this fall.

The triplets continue a deep family connection to the University. In addition to their mother, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, their maternal great-grandmother, Anne Wolk ’58, who died in 2003, graduated from Rochester. And their grandfather, Allan Wolk, who died in 2012, was a professor at the Simon Business School for 41 years.

“He’d be very happy we are continuing the family tradition at Rochester,” Sandra says. “He always loved the University.”

Wolk taught his grandchildren the importance of community service, and Jay and Sandra reinforced it. Jay has been on the Golisano hospital board of directors for 18 years and is a member of the George Eastman Circle, the University’s leadership giving society. The family has purchased numerous Giraffe OmniBeds for Golisano through the years. The OmniBed pairs an incubator and radiant warmer to create a seamless healing microenvironment for babies. Last year, the triplets pooled their birthday and work money (and their parents matched them, dollar for dollar) to purchase another OmniBed.

“We enjoy giving back,” Nicole says. “We realize how fortunate we are.”

“It was a rollercoaster, but we all got through it. We’re forever indebted to Golisano Children’s Hospital.”

Nicole started a Golisano Children’s Club at her high school and organized a carnival to benefit the hospital, bringing 10 of her fellow students to Strong. The siblings also volunteer in a hospice home and work at the Jewish Home of Rochester, with duties ranging from manning the café to transporting residents from their rooms to activities to social visits.

“We care for a diverse group of residents, and Matthew, Robert, and Nicole treat them all with respect and a genuine and unsolicited kindness,” says Shannon Megna, volunteer coordinator at the Jewish Home. “Their work here has made a huge difference.”

While Allan Wolk would be thrilled his only three grandchildren chose the school he loved, it was their choice to apply. They attended numerous summer sports camps at Rochester over the years and took courses last summer in the University’s pre-college programs.

“We looked at other places,” Nicole says, “but nothing could compare to Rochester.”

It was also their choice to stay together.

“We always do everything together,” Robert says. “We really don’t know anything different.”

One thing is certain: the brothers won’t share a dorm room this fall.

“We love being together,” Matthew says, “but it will be nice to make new friends.”

Best friends

The triplets attended the Harley School, an independent, college preparatory school just outside of Rochester, since kindergarten. All three are avid skiers who enjoy hanging with friends, and watching New York Yankees baseball games and NBC’s hit drama, This Is Us, a show about triplets.

“Once I found that out, I knew we had to watch,” Nicole says.

They call themselves best friends. Nicole says Robert is “the clown,” who always finds a way to make her laugh. And Matthew is “the nicest person I know. He has a great heart.”

The brothers say Nicole is “the boss.”

“She’s always looking out for our best interests,” Matthew says.

In turn, the brothers are protective of their sister.

“My two bodyguards,” Nicole calls them.

Three heartbeats

Sandra was expecting to hear one heart beat when she went for an ultrasound 21 weeks into her pregnancy in the fall of 1999. Instead, she heard three. She rushed to her husband’s office and “almost drove into a ravine.”

“I was sure there must be some mistake, but there wasn’t,” Jay says. “It was shocking and exciting.”

Sandra started contractions soon after and spent the next eight weeks confined to a bed at Strong before the babies came. Matthew weighed 1 1/2 pounds, Nicole weighed 2 pounds, and Robert followed at 2 1/2 pounds.

“There were good days and bad days,” Jay says, “It was a rollercoaster, but we all got through it. We’re forever indebted to Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Ready for college

The family was vacationing in Florida last December when Nicole checked her email. She saw the words ”Congratulations on being accepted into the University of Rochester’s Class of 2022!” but held her emotions until her brothers could log in. Once Robert and Matthew received the good news, the family, all fans of baseball, celebrated their “triple play.”

“It was a great day,” Matthew says. “It’s what we always wanted.”

Sandra and Jay soon will be empty nesters, but their kids will be around the corner and plan to visit often. The  triplets are ready for a new chapter.

“Their lives have come full circle,” Jay says. “When they were in kindergarten, they were in a play dressed as bumblebees. Who would’ve thought that bumblebees really grow up to become Yellowjackets?”


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