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Conjoined Twins Share Their Story – 18 Years Later

Emily, Caitlin and Dr. LallyEmily, Caitlin and Dr CookMiracles are performed every day at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. However, rarely is there a miracle as unique as the story of twin sisters Emily and Caitlin Copeland, and today they are sharing that story for the first time in 18 years.

Caitlin and Emily may seem like your average identical twin sisters. Besides their looks, they have many other things in common: they share the same friends, same smile and laugh, both were cheerleaders and even served on student council together. Graduating as co-valedictorians of their high school senior class, they even share the same academic achievement.

But at one time in their lives, the twins shared something much more significant and they have the visible scars to prove it: Emily and Caitlin were born conjoined. Conjoined twins are an extreme rarity, only occurring once in every 200,000 live births. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of conjoined twins arrive stillborn, and about 35 percent survive only one day. The overall survival rate of twins is somewhere between five percent and 25 percent.

“We don’t feel like we are different in any way,” said Caitlin. “Sometimes people ask us if, because of our medical history, we have a tighter attachment than other, normal twins. There’s no question my sister and I are extremely close, but it’s difficult to say if we are closer than ‘usual’ when our special bond is all we've ever known.”

In 1995, Mom, Crystal was a patient of Dr. Paul I. Cook with The OB/GYN Center of Houston in the Texas Medical Center affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. At 17 weeks into their first and only pregnancy, Crystal and her husband John, who were high school sweethearts, were given the news. Their twin daughters were fused at the liver and chest, from breastbone to belly button. “We were scared, of course, but trusted that God had a plan for our girls and that we were in good hands with the clinical team taking care of us,” said Crystal.

A few weeks later, Crystal was put on bed rest and miraculously carried to 38 weeks. Dr. Cook delivered the girls via cesarean section on June 10, 1996. “Delivery of the girls was certainly a miracle that we were both excited about and prepared for. It was a day I will never forget,” said Dr. Cook.

Throughout the pregnancy and immediately following the birth of the twins, the family continued regular meetings with Dr. Kevin Lally who is now professor and chair of the department of Pediatric Surgery at UTHealth Medical School and surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. Dr. Lally, who happens to be an identical twin himself, told the Copelands he thought the twins had a good prognosis because the girls were joined at the liver and chest but not the heart. At about 10 months old, the twins underwent a successful separation surgery.

When asked how he felt prior to the surgery Dr. Lally shared, “We all understood how complex the surgery was, but I was confident we had the right team in place to meet the medical challenge. Many of the doctors and nurses on our team that day are still here, still providing that same great care to our pediatric patients. We celebrated the successful surgery together then, just as we are celebrating this important milestone together now.”

At the time, the Copelands did not feel comfortable sharing their story with the media and asked to be placed under an alias at the hospital. Now, on the 18th anniversary of the girls’ miraculous birth, the twins are ready to go public with their deeply personal story.

“If our story of hope can help just one family out there, then we’re excited to share it,” Emily said.

In the fall, Emily plans to attend the University of Houston and Caitlin will be moving to Austin to attend Concordia University. It will be the first time they will be truly separated in 18 years.

Today, high risk pregnancies, including conjoined twins, are diagnosed and treated by the team at the Texas Fetal Center affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is a registered 403b not for profit organization. Learn how you can help make a difference in a child’s life today »