DALLAS, TX (NBC) — Identical twins diagnosed with a deadly but reversible disease before they were born underwent the first fetal surgery in North Texas to correct it. Before Alexis and Amber Browning were born, their parents faced a big decision at 20 weeks in the pregnancy.
"They told us that it looked like something was wrong with the girls," Jessica Browning said. "The girls looked healthy, but their bags were different sizes. The fluid that was in the bags, one was smaller and one was bigger. They told us we had what they call twin-twin syndrome."
Twin-twin transfusion syndrome affects only 10 to 15 percent of identical twins. In the past some parents had to make a decision to lose one. "We could not make that decision," Browning said. "We figured, they were twins and there's a bond there. We could not choose one. We had to do what we could to save both of them."
Using a laser, Dr. Michael Zaretsky made holes in the thin membrane that separated the twins, allowing the fluid to equalize within 24 hours. "We actually are looking at the surface of the baby's placenta. We look to see which blood vessels are connected along that placenta and we use a very fine laser to actually seal them up," said Zaretsky, an obstetrician-gynecologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
The Browning twins began to grow and develop normally and were born at 32 weeks. The once-smaller twin had more than caught up. "When we had the girls, it was quite a surprise that Amber was a whole pound bigger than Alexis," Browning said.
Zaretsky said the surgery was not without risk, but it gives twins with the syndrome a much better chance. "About 90 percent of the time, you will lose both babies if left untreated," he said.
Browning calls her twins double happiness. "It's been a lot of fun and a lot of work," she said. "A long road, but we finally got here."