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 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 January 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.
John told Lonestar FM, “The ultrasound tech, she’s looking, looking, and gets a blank look on her face. Well, as soon as she does that my wife looks over at me like she's just seen a ghost, and said, ‘hey, that’s not good.’
“Sure enough, the doctor came in and she told us there seemed to be two heartbeats, and the babies looked like they are conjoined."
Elysse admitted she was scared when she heard the news, saying, "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 ceasarean on April 11 at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women, at 31 weeks' gestation. Since then they have lived in the neonatal intensive care unit. Starting out at about 1.55kg each, they are now at about 4.64kg.
Dr Stephen Welty, chief of neonatology at Texas Children's, has grown unabashedly fond of the babies.
''They're really cute,'' he says.
They don't share heart chambers, a huge factor in their favour when it comes to separation surgery. ''It won't be easy, but it's likely the babies will do extremely well,'' Welty said.
A rare phenomenon
Conjoined twins account for about one in 200,000 live births. About 40 to 60 per cent of conjoined twins arrive stillborn, and about 35 per cent survive only one day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
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 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 mum 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.''