At 17 weeks, Kelly Finley was excited to find out the gender of her identical twins. During the routine ultrasound, her doctor was silent, shaking his head, and had a stoic expression. “My doctor turned to me and said my babies had Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) and that it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen practicing. I was in shock,” Kelly said. Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome is a condition where twins share a common vessel in the placenta, causing one baby to receive more fluids and nutrients, while the other baby receives too little. Kelly’s syndrome was extremely advanced. One of Kelly’s babies had barely any amniotic fluid. Doctors were not optimistic the baby would make it. And unfortunately, in most TTTS cases, losing one baby would mean that both babies would pass.
Kelly was immediately sent to Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, the only institute in the geographical region that can treat the syndrome. Dr. Stephen Emery, a maternal/fetal medicine specialist, treats about 12 cases of TTTS a year. “Even though it’s a rare condition, it can potentially kill two babies, so it really impacts overall perinatal death.”
After two surgeries, Dr. Emery was able to separate the blood vessels connecting the babies using a laser ablation. Within hours, the ultrasound showed that the surgery was a success and that the fluids were evening out in both babies. Cassandra and Irelynn Finley were born perfectly healthy and today are 6 years old. “When we heard both of their heartbeats after the surgery, I just thought to myself, I’m going to raise these two little fighters.” The girls are six years old, healthy, taking gymnastics, and plan to start cheerleading soon.
In cases of TTTS, if you do nothing, chances are both babies will die and in some cases one will survive but with severe complications later in life. Dr. Emery explained the impact of 9-90 research, “Obviously it’s wonderful if you can help cure a disease later in life. But to be able to save the lives of two kids where they grow up completely healthy- you essentially prevented two lives of pain and suffering. It’s really important. Fixing diseases in utero so kids never even know they had it.”
Because it is such a rare condition, there are few hospitals that offer care for the syndrome. Luckily for the Finley family, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and Dr. Stephen Emery was equipped to help.