HOUSTON (AP) — Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith Mata are a lot like any other identical twin girls, but more so: bubbly, outgoing, crazy about their big brother, Azariah. But there is one dramatic difference.
They are joined at the chest and they share a liver, diaphragm, pericardium (the lining around the heart) and probably intestines. Separating them will be delicate, doctors say, but not impossible.
Elysse Mata and her husband, John, from Lubbock, went in for a routine ultrasound Jan. 13, thinking they would come out knowing the sex of their unborn baby. Instead, they discovered that Elysse was carrying twin girls, and that they were in all likelihood conjoined.
"I was scared," Elysse Mata said Tuesday. "What if there is one heart and not two? Once we found out there was a separate everything, there was a big sigh of relief."
The girls were feisty even in the womb, she says, and now they are cheerful and engaging and delight especially in hearing their brother's voice. "Don't make my babies cry," Azariah, who just started kindergarten, warns the hospital staff. They call him Batman.
The twins were born by cesarean section on April 11 at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women, at 31 weeks' gestation, and since then they have lived in the neonatal intensive care unit at Texas Children's. Starting out at about 3 pounds, 7 ounces each, they are now at about 10 pounds, 4 ounces.
Dr. Stephen Welty, chief of neonatology at Texas Children's, has grown unabashedly fond of the babies.
"They're really cute," he told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1qbWOzI ).
They don't share heart chambers, a huge factor in their favor when it comes to separation surgery. "It won't be easy, but it's likely the babies will do extremely well," Welty said.
Conjoined twins account for about one in 200,000 live births. About 40 to 60 percent of conjoined twins arrive stillborn, and about 35 percent survive only one day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Welty said Knatalye and Adeline are the third set of conjoined twins he has cared for in his career.
Surgery to separate the girls will happen when they are about eight months old. Separations have been done at earlier ages, Welty said, but there seems to be no need in this case.
"There's nothing pushing us to do this faster than we likely would otherwise," he says.
Work toward separation will begin at around six months, when the babies will get balloon-like "expanders" to help their skin stretch gradually. The extra skin will come in handy at the time of separation and will take about six or eight weeks to grow.
"In order for it to go well we have to have a whole medical team working together," Welty said. "It takes a village."
The surgery, led by Dr. Darrell L. Cass, the co-director of the Texas Children's Fetal Center, will be conducted by two teams of surgeons and others. If the surgery is successful — and the odds are it will be, Welty said — the girls will face a great deal of physical therapy.
Welty says he will insist on the parents sending pictures via email as the girls get bigger.
As for Elysse, she is counting on the powerful middle names she gave the girls. "Hope and faith," she says. "You can't have one without the other."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com