DENVER, Colo. – Last winter, Amber McCullough learned she was expecting a baby.
Shortly into her second trimester, she felt ill and visited a doctor.
McCullough, a United States Army Reserves Captain and attorney, is a divorced single mother to a 6-year-old boy.
After getting into a new relationship, she learned she was pregnant.
McCullough visited several doctors to determine how to move forward, but was given conflicting information.
“I walked out of there thinking I must terminate out of my best interest, otherwise I’d likely be risking my life, and I have a 6-year-old to think of,” she said. “So far in this journey, we have gone from okay, we can save both, we can save none, we can save one. It’s been a roller coaster.”
McCullough named the twins, Hannah and Olivia.
Doctors diagnosed them with Thoraco-omphalo-ischiopagus-tripus conjoinment, meaning the girls are joined from mid-chest to the pelvis. They share an abdomen, liver and intestinal tract.
They have two separate hearts, kidneys and three legs.
Hannah is the healthier twin, while Olivia has a weak heart and a congenital brain malformation called a Dandy Walker variant.
“The cards are stacked against us. The reality right now is there is nothing they can do for Olivia. That is very hard to accept. People have asked me if I am ready for that. Course I’m not, nobody is. I don’t think you can prepare for losing a child,” she said.
In order to save Hannah, doctors believe they will have to perform an EXIT procedure immediately after birth, while the girls are still attached to the placenta.
“When we disconnect the umbilical cord, they will have to do a lot more for themselves that Amber is doing for them now, and so that is going to be the big trial. The babies would likely fail rapidly after delivery, so their best hope, or Hannah’s best hope, would likely be for starting that separation procedure while still attached to the placenta,” said Dr. Tracy Prosen, the Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment Center director.
“There are few things sacred in life. Your children will always make the top of that list, and of those few things sacred in life, they are always worth fighting for, even if you lose the battle,” McCullough said. “I will never quit. I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen soldier. Why don’t my kids deserve that same kind of commitment?”