A couple in Indiana, Pa. says they've opted not to separate their newborn conjoined twins because surgery would put both their lives at serious risk.
The brothers were born 14 days ago and they share a heart and liver. Doctors say Garrett and Andrew Stancombe are healthy but the complex surgery might cause one -- or both -- to die.
The parents, Michelle Van Horne and Kody Stancombe, learned of the circumstances at the end of the first trimester. "It was difficult hearing. I was scared and nervous," Van Horne told CBS Pittsburgh. The doctors told the couple their babies might die before or shortly after birth.
But on April 10, Garrett and Andrew entered the world and were allowed to go home with their parents only four days later. The couple says the boys are sleeping and eating and generally doing well. But the family is taking it one day at a time.
"They could be with us here tomorrow and gone the next second. A month down they could be gone. They could turn into teenagers," said Van Horne. "We don't know and that's the difficulty."
babies are fused and which vital organs they share. This is what primarily determines whether or not it's safe to conduct surgery. The Stancomb brothers are thoracopagus twins -- one of the most common types -- which are often too risky to separate because of a shared heart.
However, some thoracopagus twins do survive and thrive once separated -- even ones in the most dire of circumstances. Earlier this month twin boys in Dallas went home from the hospital almost a year after undergoing surgery. These twins were joined below the breast bone to just below the navel; they shared a liver and intestines, and also had a small patch on the lower stomach that wasn't covered by skin or muscle.
Scientists say conjoined twins are the result of one fertilized egg that divides into two fetuses that fail to separate. Conjoined twins are incredibly rare, which is why they tend to make headlines. Approximately one of every 200,000 babies delivered are conjoined twins. Among them, 40 to 60 percent are stillbirth, while only 35 percent survive live past their first day in the world. The overall survival rate of conjoined twins is about 5 to 25 percent.