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Conjoined twin girls were born Thursday at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to a U.S. Marine and his wife, the first such birth at the Maryland hospital.

Jade and Erin Buckles, born at 10:35 a.m. by Caesarian section, were in stable condition Thursday, and recovering at the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, hospital officials said.

Jade and Erin are joined at the abdomen, from midchest to naval. They have all of their own limbs and organs, but doctors believe their livers and diaphragms are fused. They have separate hearts but share a pericardium, the sac containing the heart.

“I’m the luckiest mother in the world to be blessed with two beautiful, healthy daughters. Kevin and I want to personally thank the MICC and NICU staff at Bethesda for giving us such wonderful care and for making this delivery a miracle,” mother Melissa Buckles said in a statement.

Parents Melissa and Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Buckles knew before the birth that their daughters were conjoined, and picked Bethesda because of its Mother and Infant Care Center and the NICU, said hospital spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler. “Here in the national capital region, and for the military [worldwide], we’re the No. 1 referral center for high-risk pregnancies.”

Of the 1,800 births a year at Bethesda, 400 are deemed high-risk newborns, he said. “We are the best, bar none, in the military for delivering [babies], especially those [who are] high-risk.”

The girls’ parents weren’t up to talking to the press Thursday, and instead preferred to spend the day with each other and their daughters.

“They’ve declined all media interviews, at least for the first 72 hours,” deputy spokeswoman Corey Schultz said.

A three-person surgical team and one neonatologist were involved in the twins’ delivery.

“We’re all very excited. We’re very proud of this family in the way that they’ve handled things,” said Dr. Christian Macedonia, associate director for Women’s Health.

Doctors expect to surgically separate Jade and Erin, but have not finalized plans.

“They’re expected to do the separation, but we’re unable right now to know when. So many things could happen,” Schultz said.

The surgery, however, won’t take place at Bethesda. Children’s National Medical Center in Washington or The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a center for conjoined twins study, are likely options, officials said.

“Of course there is risk involved in any surgery, but we’re very hopeful for the outlook of the twins’ lives,” Schultz said.

On the minds of hospital staff is a case involving six-month-old conjoined twins Brynleigh and Victoria Smith, who died Jan. 29 in Texas after being removed from ventilators.

The girls were born July 25 at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base and were joined from chest to abdomen and shared a heart, liver, diaphragm and parts of their intestines, said spokesman Lt. Benjamin Silva.

“We found out today about the set born, and because of similar conditions, we’re interested,” Silva said. “We’re kind of surprised because [conjoined twins] is not a normal occurrence. We’re definite rooting them on and we wish them the best.”

Conjoined births are among the rarest of human births, happening about once in every 200,000 live births, Schultz said. About 70 percent of conjoined twins are female.

Jade and Erin each weighed more than four pounds at birth; “a good size for twins,” Schultz said.

Gunny Sgt. Buckles is the assistant drum major with “The Commandant’s Own” Drum and Bugle Corps, headquartered at Marine Corps Barracks in Washington. Mom is a high school teacher. She is recuperating at the hospital.

“She is smiling and happy,” Peppler said.

As a precaution, Melissa Buckles has been hospitalized since December and connected to fetal monitors so physicians could keep an eye on the babies’ progress, Schultz said. The twins’ due date was March 9, but because of strains on the mother and their combined size, twins rarely are born on their due dates, Schultz said.

Bethesda’s birth center is one of the largest in the military’s health system and features state-of-the-art equipment, and is one of the military’s top neonatal facilities.

Facts about conjoined twins

• Conjoined twins occur once every 200,000 live births.

• Forty percent to 60 percent of conjoined twins arrive stillborn, and about 35 percent survive only one day.

• The overall survival rate of conjoined twins is between 5 percent and 25 percent.

• Approximately 70 percent of all conjoined twins are girls. Although more male twins conjoin in the womb than female twins, females are three times as likely to be born alive.

• Conjoined twins are genetically identical and are, therefore, always the same sex. They develop from the same fertilized egg.

• One of the earliest documented cases of conjoined twins were Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst. They were born in Biddenden, Kent, England, in the year 1100, and were joined at the hip.

• Another set of famous conjoined twins was Eng and Chang Bunker, who were born in Thailand (then called Siam) in 1811. The term Siamese twins was coined as a reference to Eng and Chang, who achieved international fame shortly after leaving Siam as teenagers.

They were exhibited in circus shows around the world before settling in the United States, where they married two sisters and had nearly two dozen children. They were 63 years old when they died.

• The term “Siamese twins” is no longer considered appropriate.

• Conjoined twins aren’t limited to any racial or ethnic group and have been born all over the world.

— Source: University of Maryland Medicine


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