Twin boys conjoined from their chests to their bellies — and sharing the same heart and liver — were born in Pennsylvania earlier this month, after doctors said they would likely not be born alive. The twins, Garrett and Andrew Stancombe, will not be separated because the surgery would be too risky, their parents say. And though they are doing well, their future is uncertain.
“They could be with us here tomorrow and gone the next second,” the twins' mom, Michelle Van Horne, who also has an older son, tells CBS Pittsburgh. “A month down they could be gone. They could turn into teenagers. We don’t know and that’s the difficulty.”
Van Horne, who also has an older son, and her partner Kody Stancombe, were told during the first trimester of her pregnancy that the twins were conjoined. “It was difficult hearing,” she says. “I was scared and nervous.”
Conjoined twins account for one out of every 200,000 live births, according to the website of theUniversity of Maryland Medical Center, where doctors have expertise in twin-separation surgery. Further, it notes, 40 to 60 percent of conjoined twins are stillborn, and about 35 percent survive only one day. Conjoined twins have an overall survival rate of 5 to 25 percent, and, for some reason, female siblings seem to have a better chance at survival than boys.
The most striking example of female conjoined-twin survival is probably that of Abby and Brittany Hensel, 23-year-olds from Minnesota who have two hearts but, share one reproductive system and liver, and have graduated from college.
Separations are always risky, though some more than others. Recently, twins Owen and Emmitt Ezell, born joined from their breastbone to hipbone and sharing several organs, were successfully separated after a complex nine-hour surgery.
As for Garrett and Andrew, the boys were sent home from the hospital after just four days; Van Horne says they’ve been excellent sleepers and eaters.
"They're breathing good. They're crying. They're doing everything a normal infant would do. That's why we see them as our miracle babies," she tells WPXI, adding that feeding and dressing them has been challenging, as they’ve been taking two outfits and snapping them together. Van Horne's sister has created a YouCaring.com site to accept donations on the family's behalf.
“They’ll continue to fight until it’s their time,” she says. “We will love them and cherish them until that moment and continue even after.”
These babies live about 15 minutes away from me. So heartbreaking.