HOUSTON – Doctors at Texas Medical Center's Children's Hospital are planning the separation of conjoined twin girls, confident that they will survive and survive well on their own.
"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," says Dr. Larry Hollier, a pediatric plastic surgeon at the hospital. "These twins are very lucky because all of their organs, in our opinion, are separable."
Nine month olds, Knatalye and Adeline Mata are joined at the chest and pelvis. Doctors say they do share some digestive functions, and they will require reconstructed ribs and pelvises. But the organs everyone would worry most about, the hearts, are connected only by the pericardial sac, or the lining of the heart.
"The heart can function independently in each twin," Hollier says.
Elysse Mata of Lubbock, who gave birth to the girls in April, said she wants the girls to live separate and normal lives.
"I feel like they were given each individual organs for a reason, and that reason is so they can live individual lives," she said.
Mata says the girls are already individual emotionally. She watches them develop every day.
"Knatalye, I call her the wild one, the wild child," Mata says. "She's playful and she smiles. She's the social butterfly. She gives high fives. Adeline is more calm, quiet and to herself. She still likes to smile and interact with people, just not as much as her sister does."
The girls were born at an estimated 3 pounds, 7 ounces each, at 31 weeks gestation. They have overcome lung and breathing issues, and now each weighs more than 16 pounds. Knatalye and Adeline underwent their first surgery just four weeks ago, when doctors implanted tissue expanders in their chest and abdomen area to stretch their skin. Doctors say it was an important first surgery for all involved.
"We were able to put together a system where we were able to take care of two children, at one time, in one operating room, and have all the available resources for two children," says Pediatric Plastic Surgeon Dr. Edward Buchanan. "It gave us a good test run prior to the actual separation which will be a lot longer of an operation."
That surgery will involve several teams of specialists for separation and reconstruction. It's expected to take from 24 to 36 hours from start to finish.
"We have the largest team of pediatric surgeons in the United States here and we have excellent support services here," says Dr. Hollier. "I don't think anybody can coordinate a long complex procedure better than we can."
No date has been set for the separation surgery because doctors say it depends on the progress of the tissue expansion. They do think the Mata twins will be ready in February or March.