Houston Conjoined Twins Prepare For Risky Surgery

Some siblings are close. They eat together, share a bedroom and have the same social circle, but for some siblings, it goes far beyond that. In just a few shorts weeks, doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital will tackle the arduous, 36-hour business of separating two Houston-born conjoined twins.

On January 13, 2014, Eric and Elysse Mata excitedly went to their first ultrasound to determine if they were expecting a boy or a girl. They were surprised and elated to hear that they were pregnant with twin girls, but the excitement quickly turned to worry when they were told that the twins were conjoined at the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. Their bodies were positioned nearly face-to-face. After further tests, it was determined that the babies partially shared a diaphragm and liver, and were given a grim 20 percent chance of survival. Many conjoined twins succumb to the complications of their condition, and the Matas were facing a bleak road ahead.

Upon hearing the news, the Matas gave their little girls the names Faith and Hope. Despite the bleak odds, on April 11 Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith made their way into the world at 31 weeks, weighing a mere combined 7 pounds, 9 ounces.

It was determined after birth that the twins share some digestive functions and will have to have their ribs and pelvises reconstructed after separation, but the organ everyone was most worried about, the heart, is not conjoined in the twins; they’re merely connected by the pericardial sac.

Texas Children’s Hospital pediatric plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Hollier is confident that the girls will be able to function completely independent of one another.

“In some conjoined twins they’re very unfortunate in that they don’t have organs that can be split and shared between the two of them. These twins are very lucky because all of their organs, in our opinion, are separable. The heart can function independently in each twin.”

Since April, the twins have been treated for lung and breathing issues due to their conjoined diaphragm. Today, the girls are nearly nine months old and weigh six pounds each. They are considered to be healthy and developing normally in all other areas. Despite their overall good health, however, the girls have made the Texas Children’s Fetal Center their home these past nine months, as specialized care is needed due to their condition.

In December, the girls underwent their first surgery in preparation for separation. In a five-hour procedure, doctors implanted custom-made tissue expanders into the conjoined areas of the twins. These expanders are gradually being inflated with fluid, causing their skin to slowly stretch and generate additional tissue. Doctors will use this new skin for both girls after they have been separated. The exact date of separation is pending until a sufficient amount of skin has been generated, though it is believed that the surgery could be as soon as February or early March.

Dr. Darrell Cass, Pediatric Surgeon and co-director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center has a positive outlook for the girls.

“I know that we’re going be successful at separating them and I know that they’re both going to walk into their kindergarten classes just like any other kid. And by the time they get to be that age they’re going have forgotten all these processes and everything they went through.”

Cass has explained that despite the complicated and challenging operation ahead, 10 surgical teams specializing in various fields ranging from bioethics to pediatric gynecology have been assembled to make the separation go as smoothly as possible. Nearly 30 people will be part of the process from start to finish.

“Ultimately, on that day we will have to be nimble, adaptable and work together,” He said. “I’m very optimistic that we’ll have great results.”

As the conjoined twins prepare for the risky surgery, the family has received an outpouring of support from across the country, including thousands of dollars in assistance via their You Caring funds page.