Hope, faith and expertise: Surgical team leads historical Mata conjoined twins surgery

February 24, 2015


During the early morning hours of February 17, Elysse Mata sat holding her babies tightly, kissing them as tears ran down her face. She was saying goodbye to her girls, conjoined for the last time before undergoing a historical surgery that would offer them their first chance at separate lives.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a year,” Elysse said. “Ever since we found out the twins were conjoined, we’ve been praying and hoping this day would come.”

Conjoined twins Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith Mata – known by their family simply as Hope and Faith – were born at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women on April 11, 2014 via Caesarean-section at 31 weeks gestation after weeks of extensive prenatal imaging, multidisciplinary consultation and planning at Texas Children’s Fetal Center. The babies each weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces.

Surgeons allowed the girls to grow and gain strength for 10 months before undertaking the difficult task of separating them. During that time our comprehensive team of surgeons, physicians, nurses and support staff prepared for the day that had finally arrived. The lead surgeons had met and thoughtfully examined every aspect of their procedure, the simulation staff prepared the team for complications, and Critical Care nurses were readying the PICU for the girls post-surgery.

Letting go

In those quiet, prayerful moments before the surgery, Elysse’s husband, John Eric, and their 5-year-old son, Azariah, were also near, kissing the girls’ foreheads and squeezing their tiny hands while they anxiously awaited the start of the surgery that would change the girls’ lives forever. A group of extended family, friends and a Texas Children’s Hospital chaplain joined the Matas for an emotional prayer.

Lead surgeon Dr. Darrell Cass entered the room, gave the family a hug, and with the help of supporting operating room staff, escorted the girls to Texas Children’s Operating Room 12. Members of the girls’ NICU care team, who had been by their sides for almost a year, lined the hallways in an emotional show of support.

Just after 7 a.m., Hope and Faith were wheeled into the operating room where a team of 12 surgeons from seven specialties, six anesthesiologists, eight highly trained nurses and support staff spent nearly 24 hours performing an operation that would eventually separate the twins.

Surgery begins

During the first few hours of the procedure, Anesthesiologist Dr. Helana Karlberg and Surgical Nurse Audra Rushing prepped the girls for surgery. At 1:10 p.m., Chief of Plastic Surgery Dr. Larry Hollier made the first incision. For the next 18 hours, the surgical team worked in shifts to separate the twins, who shared a chest wall, pericardial sac (the lining of the heart), diaphragm, liver, intestines, bladder, uterus and pelvis.

As the surgeons continued the difficult task, family and friends gathered in a large, room praying and supporting the parents while they waited for updates from the surgical team.

“This is the (most difficult) feeling ever,” said John Eric Mata as he and Elysse waited for their first in-person update. “It’s giving me too much time to think. I’ll be a lot more comfortable when they say they are separated. I’m ready for that.”

At one point, the family was told there had been a rocky part in the procedure when the twin’s livers were being operated on. During that process, surgeons explained there was quite a bit of blood loss and that the anesthesiologists and cardiologist in the room had to keep up with that and maintain the girls’ blood pressure.

“At times it was difficult,” Hollier said. “But it was controlled very rapidly, allowing us to move on with the procedure.”

Hours later, Eric and Elysse heard the answer to months of prayers when Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye met them in a private consult room and delivered the good news – the twins had been successfully separated.

“This is the farthest they’ve been from each other,” Olutoye said when we greeted the family around 1 a.m. “They’re about 30 feet apart right now.”

They are two

Separate for the first time, the twins were taken to different operating rooms where surgeons continued to work on the girls’ critical organs. Just before 10 a.m., the surgery was complete, and the family visited their girls, apart for the first time in rooms next to each other in the PICU, where they are being cared for by a team of their NICU primary nurses and their new PICU nurses.

Elysse said she and her family are extremely grateful for the team that separated her babies, and the countless hours they put into understanding the girls’ condition, and how best to treat and care for them.

Cass and several of the other surgeons, including plastic surgeon Dr. Ed Buchanan, met the family in Adeline’s room to share in the family’s joy and relief. They gave the family a summary of the monumental procedure and explained what they should expect in the next few days.

“Thank you for your trust,” Cass said to the Mata family. “We are going to keep doing everything we can to get them through this. So far, so good.”

Hollier said that to the best we know this is the first time a case of this magnitude – conjoined twins connected at the chest, abdomen and pelvis – has ever been done.

“It could not have gone better,” he said. “It was phenomenal team work and great preparation on the part of the institution.”

Click on the photo to view a gallery showing the Mata’s journey to separation.

A dream realized

By late morning Wednesday, February 19, Elysse and John Eric were again with their babies, watching over their girls, now in two beds, in adjoining PICU rooms. It was a moment they had been waiting for since more than a year ago when a routine ultrasound revealed that Elysse was carrying conjoined twins. They traveled from their hometown of Lubbock to Texas Children’s Fetal Center, where the next chapter of their journey began.

Today, their family has a promising new chapter, thanks to the compassionate expertise of our physicians, nurses and countless staff and employees.

“We love them,” Elysse said of the girls’ medical team. “They mean the world to us, and they will forever hold a special place in our hearts.”

Conjoined Twins Separation Surgical Team

  • Plastic Surgeon Dr. Ed Buchanan
  • Lead Pediatric Surgeon and Co-Director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center Dr. Darrell Cass
  • Chief of Pediatric Gynecology Dr. Jennifer Dietrich
  • Pediatric Urologist Dr. Patricio Gargollo
  • Transplant Services Surgeon Dr. John Goss
  • Anesthesiologist Dr. Kalyani Govindan
  • Chief of Plastic Surgery Dr. Larry Hollier
  • Lead Anesthesiologist Dr. Helena Karlberg
  • Plastic Surgeon Dr. David Khechoyan
  • Pediatric Urologist Dr. Chester Koh
  • Cardiovascular Surgeon Dr. Dean McKenzie
  • Pediatric Surgeon and Co-Director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye
  • Anesthesiologist Dr. Olutoyin Olutoye
  • Chief of Orthopedics Dr. William Phillips
  • Lead Surgical Nurse Audra Rushing
  • Anesthesiologist Dr. Steve Stayer

Learn more about the Mata twins and the preparation Texas Children’s team took on to care for the girls:
Mata conjoined twins born at Texas Children’s
Tissue expander surgery allows twins to prepare for separation surgery
Mata twins’ care team helps create swing for baby girls
Radiology team helps prepare surgeons for separation surgery with 3D model