When you're carrying conjoined twins, you're inevitably forced to stare down a list of grim statistics, like how 40 to 60 percent are stillborn and how some 35 percent survive for only one day. Which makes success stories like Eric and Elysse Mata's that much sweeter.
The Texas parents welcomed their conjoined twin daughters last April. Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith were connected by the chest and pelvis and shared a number of vital organs, including the lungs, liver, intestines, and colon. Thankfully, though, they had separate hearts, so separating them was an option. But it wasn't without its risks.
Though the odds of separating conjoined twins is improving -- according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, since 1950, at least one baby has survived surgical separation about 75 percent of the time -- this particular surgery had never been successfully attempted before. The gutsy parents knew they wanted their babies to live independent lives, so they turned to a team of skilled doctor and nurses at Texas Children's Hospital for help, reports the Daily Mail.
Unlike, say, a tonsillectomy, this complicated procedure required a great deal of prep work: In December, tissue expanders were placed into the girls' chest and abdomen -- an operation that lasted five hours -- and the medical team performed simulated surgeries on 3D models of the kiddos' organs.
But finally, the big day -- February 17-- arrived. Wearing matching black t-shirts with the words "Hope" and "Faith" emblazoned on them, Eric, Elysse, and their 5-year-old, Azariah, kissed and snuggled with the babies before they were wheeled into the surgery suite. As a show of support, a crowd of friends, family and hospital staffers lined the hall from the pre-op room to the surgery suite. (Watch the heartwarming video here -- just make sure to have a tissue handy.)
Knatalye and Adeline would stay there for the next 26 hours, while 12 surgeons, six anesthesiologists, and eight nurses worked feverishly to untangle their tiny bodies. The worried parents would receive updates by phone every two hours. Finally, one of the doctors called out a countdown: "3, 2, 1...separate" and the medical team responded with a round of applause. The operation was a success. Though they'll need more procedures in the future, right now the 10-month-old girls are recovering in the hospital's pediatric unit. And my bet is that their relieved and grateful parents haven't left their side.
Congratulations to the Mata family, and best wishes for a speedy, easy recovery for their brave daughters!
Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+
Birth Stories: When You're Expecting Twins
Image of Elysse kissing baby Knatalye courtesy of Texas Children's Hospital via Facebook