The revelation of the twins’ connection came early in the pregnancy. The 10-week ultrasound showed the babies had little to no separation between them. Images taken at the following appointment confirmed the babies were conjoined. Suddenly, the family’s excitement for welcoming two new additions was covered by a cloud of questions, uncertainty and fear.
“I would not have thought in a million years that I would have twins,” Arciniega said. “And then conjoined twins on top of that.”
In the months that followed Arciniega enjoyed an easy and uncomplicated pregnancy, save for the many appointments with specialists across the state to determine who best to deliver the twins and what hospital was most capable to care for them after birth.
The couple settled on maternal-fetal specialist Bannie Tabor, M.D., whose practice is located at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also the medical director for Cook Children’s Fetal Center. In his 32-year career of caring for high-risk pregnancies, Dr. Tabor has delivered more than 5,000 babies.
Soon after taking Arciniega and her unborn babies as patients, Dr. Tabor reached out to Dr. Iglesias, a longtime colleague, to review the case and discuss the possibility of separation.
“It was a big surprise when I got the first phone call from Dr. Tabor saying he had conjoined twins that he was starting to follow,” Dr. Iglesias said. “At that time they really didn’t know the babies’ anatomy specifically. So I said there is a big range of possibilities and we need to see what happened with the initial MRI to make some plans from there.”
Many conjoined twins die in utero or do not survive long after birth because of the nature of their joining and the organs they share. But scans showed JamieLynn and AmieLynn each had their own heart and heart sac, increasing their chance of survival and making them candidates for future separation.
“I think the key thing when we first met the family was they had a lot of anxiety about the situation, what the options were and what they could do,” Dr. Tabor said. “I think I gave them the confidence that, while I could not promise everything would work out, we would do everything that we could and, with everybody involved — from me to the neonatologists to the surgeons — they were in the right place.”
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and Cook Children’s Medical Center have a long history of physical and professional collaboration. Both facilities are located in the heart of Fort Worth’s Medical District along a historical stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that cattle barons once called home. The two facilities are joined by a skywalk and, in Cook Children’s early days, even shared some utilities. Local neonatologists practice at both hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and many Texas Health Fort Worth obstetricians, including Dr. Tabor, regularly consult with Cook Children’s pediatric specialists.
“The working relationship between the whole team, that’s made possible by the close relationship of the hospitals, allows us to be the center that can provide this type of highly advanced service to North Texas so families don’t have to go halfway across the state or halfway across the country or even to Dallas for care,” Dr. Tabor said.
Early in the pregnancy, Finley and Arciniega also consulted Ben Gbulie, M.D., F.A.C.S, of Posh Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Mansfield, Texas, and a member of the plastic surgery faculty at Cook Children’s. They learned of Dr. Gbulie through Finley’s mother, whose friend told her of a local plastic surgeon with experience in multiple conjoined twin separation surgeries.
After long discussions with the couple, he pointed them toward Cook Children’s Medical Center.
“I explained to them that traveling for surgery is not a problem, and a lot of people do that,” Dr. Gbulie said. “But if you can get the same quality of care where you live, it’s always better because you want to be able to have long-term follow-up. While this is a major, complex operation, it is not something that is beyond what I felt Cook Children’s could do.”
Finley and Arciniega were relieved to hear Dr. Gbulie’s recommendation. The family lives less than 30 minutes from Cook Children’s. To know that they could stay close to home, close to their other children and close to their support system was comforting.
Cook Children’s was also familiar. Two of the couple’s older children have received care at the medical center. Their daughter, Aaliyah, 13, spent weeks in Cook Children’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) when she was 7 for a nearly deadly bacterial infection called Bartonella henselae. It’s commonly known as cat scratch fever and can be acquired when scratched by a cat. Big brother, James, is a frequent visitor to Cook Children’s as he manages sickle cell disease.
“Sometimes we come in here and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you before,’ to a doctor that has been around our son or Aaliyah, and they’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed you, too,’” Arciniega said. “So it’s kind of like we’re family here.”
“Everybody’s always treated us nice,” Finley added. “It takes a lot of pressure and anxiety off when you know your kid is going to be taken care of.”
As the babies grew in utero, Dr. Tabor closely monitored their progress and, together with a team of doctors from both hospitals, prepared a delivery and post-natal game plan. During Arciniega’s third trimester, Dr. Tabor became concerned with the slow growth rate of the babies and determined it was best to deliver them early.
On Oct. 3, 2022, at 34 weeks gestation, JamieLynn and AmieLynn were delivered via C-section at 10:40 a.m. at Texas Health Fort Worth. Arciniega required a vertical incision over the traditional horizontal approach to delivering the babies safely. Both weighed 4 pounds, 7.8 ounces. JamieLynn was the longer of the two, measuring 16.9 inches to AmieLynn’s 16.5 inches.
“It wasn’t an easy delivery, but we made it look easy,” Dr. Tabor said reflecting on that day.
Upon delivery, neonatologists Chad Barber, M.D. and Mary Frances Lynch, M.D., took over the babies’ care in Texas Health Fort Worth’s NICU. Like with any set of identical twins, telling them apart can be tricky and, if mistaken, dangerous in the hospital setting. To help keep their identities straight, Dr. Barber and Dr. Lynch chose a favored color for each girl, purple for JamieLynn and green for AmieLynn, and used Sharpies to mark each baby’s color on one of their nails.
After a month, the girls were transferred to the NICU at Cook Children’s Medical Center where they remain today, still under the care of Dr. Barber and Dr. Lynch who practice at both Texas Health Fort Worth and Cook Children’s. The girls’ color codes followed them there, too, and are used as an additional layer of safety when identifying the babies for medication administration, feedings and individual care needs. They even inspired the purple and green crayon costumes the girls sported for Halloween.