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Dennis Quaid's Quest

After his infant twins nearly died from an accidental drug overdose, the actor found a bold new mission.

Dennis Quaid

— Art Streiber

For a tired but happy Quaid, it seemed like a new high in a mostly charmed life. The son of a Houston electrician, Quaid dropped out of college and headed to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in his early 20s. Though he didn't achieve the immediate success of his older brother, Randy—who was nominated for an Oscar within a year of arriving in Hollywood for his supporting role in 1973's The Last Detail—Dennis eventually got noticed, most dramatically for playing astronaut Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff in 1983, followed by key performances in The Big Easy in 1986 and Great Balls of Fire in 1989. He admits he handled fame badly, particularly by indulging a cocaine habit in the '80s. He eventually cleaned up, and, in 1991, he married actress Meg Ryan. The pair divorced in 2001 but share custody and parenting of their son, Jack Henry, now 18.

In 2002, Quaid received rave reviews for his portrayal of a Texas high school baseball coach in The Rookie and for his performance as a frustrated homosexual suburban husband in Far From Heaven. At the same time, he was thriving in his personal life. After The Right Stuff,  he had learned to pilot jets. On his 500-acre spread in Montana, he spent downtime riding his beloved horses and indulging his passion for golf. He continued acting in movies, and in 2011 he'll appear in Soul Surfer, based on the true story of teenager Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark off the coast of Kauai in 2003.

But after the twins were born, Quaid committed to spending more time just being a dad. "Being a parent is one of my favorite things in life," he says. "It's one of the most challenging experiences, and one of the most rewarding."

On the afternoon of November 17, 2007, after the company had left, Dennis and Kimberly settled in with their brood. Then Kimberly, a hypervigilant new mom, noticed a sore on T. Boone's umbilical cord. Z.G. had a similar irritation on one of her fingers. The couple's pediatrician sent them to Cedars-Sinai, where both children tested positively for staph and were admitted for treatment with IV antibiotics.

Initially, Dennis and Kimberly would not leave the twins' bedsides. They even watched the next morning as a nurse dispensed a substance into their IVs. She explained that it was Hep-Lock, routinely used to prevent blood clots at IV sites. Without knowing it, the new parents had just witnessed the first of two overdoses of heparin (the next given several hours later when the IV bags needed changing ).

That evening, exhausted, the couple finally headed home. They were sitting in their living room, trying to unwind, when suddenly, at 9 p.m., Kimberly panicked, repeatedly saying, "They're passing. The kids are passing." Quaid thought she was reacting from fatigue, but he phoned the hospital and spoke to the on-duty nurse, who told him the twins were fine. Quaid believes the nurse probably knew about the overdose then but had been told not to notify them because they needed rest. "Our kids could have died that night," says Quaid, "and we wouldn't have been there for them."

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