Are you attached to a brother or sister? They were! Dr. Kevin Lally, center, with Emily, left, and Caitlin Copeland, right, in Houston. The girls appear at age 7, below left
Are you attached to a brother or sister? They were!
Lexile

For a set of Texas twins, being joined at the hip is not just a cliche that was basically the first 10 months of their life.

On Tuesday, Emily and Caitlin Copeland, who were born conjoined at the liver, are celebrating their 18th birthday by enjoying the success of a separation surgery that has allowed them to lead normal lives and graduate as co-valedictorians from Lutheran High North in Houston.

"I think for anyone it's exciting to get to 18, but in particular for us I think it's just a really big blessing that we got to 18, considering what could have happened," Caitlin said.

Crystal Copeland, the twins' mother, nods. She will never forget the day she learned she was pregnant with conjoined twins, a phenomenon that occurs once in every 200,000 live births. Between 40 percent and 60 percent are stillborn, and some 35 percent survive one day.

And in late 1996, surgery and imaging were not as advanced.

"At the time, if you Googled conjoined twins all you got was circus acts and babies that died," Copeland said.

It was a Friday when Copeland first spoke to Dr. Kevin Lally, surgeon in chief at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. He promised to provide an honest assessment of the chances for survival.

The babies were kicking. Copeland had seen them in an ultrasound. To her, they were alive and well. That weekend, she said, was the hardest in her life.

On Monday, the Copelands got the best news they could have hoped for.

"They were joined at the liver, not at the heart, which would have been, you know, fatal," Copeland said. "He thought there were good opportunities for separation where they would both be able to live basically normal lives," she added.

The complications after the twins were born were worrisome. One was born with a blocked intestine, and surgery had to be conducted when they were just 2 days old. Lally wanted to separate them at that point, but when the surgery began doctors discovered they were not only conjoined at the liver but the organs were discharging through only one twin. So doctors decided to wait for them to get bigger for the separation surgery.

Meanwhile, Copeland watched Caitlin, bigger and chubbier than Emily, try to roll over on her sister, who would scream, arms flailing to the sides. Then Caitlin got on all fours and tried to crawl, but Emily was too heavy for her to drag.

Faced now with two smiling teenagers, rather than screaming toddlers who had to raise their shirts so he could inspect their scars, Lally smiles.

"You don't always see the long-term results of what we do, and it's nice when you get to see a good one," he said.

Critical thinking challenge: What difference did it make that the girls were joined at the liver and not the heart?

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COMMENTS (16)
  • n.m.11blue
    6/10/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    I always wondered what it would be like to have a twin. If i were in this situation I would be scared. There is no guarantee in this situation that you will live. If you do then there is no way to know what the life lond issues would be.

  • ZM17Games
    6/10/2014 - 01:01 p.m.

    I think it's good that they were able to be separated, because I know sometimes conjoined twins can;t be separated. I think it's really awesome that they are co-valedictorians.

  • EthanH-5
    6/10/2014 - 08:40 p.m.

    Emily and Caitlin Copeland are twins that were born conjoined. They are now 18 years old. At the time of their mothers pregnancy, conjoined twins did not have a good survival rate. 40% of them were stillborn and another 35% of them died within one day. These girls were connected at the liver and they were able to be separated when they were 10 months old.

    They were lucky that they were connected at the liver and not the heart or brain, which would have involved a much riskier surgery for both and the likelihood that one of both would not survive. The girls look healthy and happy and grateful to be alive.

  • AP21Softball18
    6/11/2014 - 08:40 a.m.

    The difference was that it was probably easier to separate them. Since the heart is one of the most important organs needed to survive, it would be very fatal to try and separate them. So, being at the liver, it could be much easier.

  • RMansaray123
    6/11/2014 - 08:43 a.m.

    Wow, just... wow. They were stuck together, like literally? I didn't think that could happen. I mean, I've seen it in movies and cartoons and stuff, but I only thought it was something made up. Other than that cool discovery, I must admit, that is cool. It's kind of weird too but it's cool. These twins were literally attached to each other. How that is possible, I don't know but it is. They've must have been very close then after all these years of being attached to each other. I know I am with my sister even if we're not literally attached.

  • lk30pink
    6/12/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    I think its amazing that they survived being seperated. Bad things could have hapened in the process, but its amazing that they are celebrating thier 18 birthday.

  • mvw18mischief
    6/12/2014 - 08:41 a.m.

    If they were joined at the heart, it would have been fatal. Luckily, they were joined at the liver. It is still hard for all of them for the kids to be joined at the liver though.

  • HanahW
    6/12/2014 - 09:59 a.m.

    I think this is great. I'm really happy for them. It would be very big to get such an amazing surgery. Especially when it works out. Because it could have gone many different ways.

  • Lauren5987
    6/15/2014 - 08:28 p.m.

    If I was literally attached to my sister I would go insane! If they hadn't gotten separated it makes me think about how they would function. would they go out and do normal things that teenagers do? would they go out on dates? would the other one just sit they awkwardly during a date? I don't know..... Being able to turn 18 must feel amazing and their parents are probably so happy seeing them growing up. I cant imagine having to send my daughters in for a surgery like that at such a young age not knowing what could come from it. both parents and daughters are very strong people.

  • BobbyH-Wit
    9/02/2014 - 10:28 a.m.

    being conjoined is something hard to live with but good because you will always have someone there to talk to. If I was them I'd probably miss my con jointed twin.

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