Twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) almost took the lives of twins Aiden and Blake before they were born, but an innovative fetal surgery at the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute gave them the chance at life.
TTTS is a prenatal condition in which twins share unequal amounts of the placenta’s blood supply, resulting in them growing at different rates. This impacts the twins’ blood flow, and can be deadly to both babies. When Aiden and Blake’s mother Theresa was 21 weeks pregnant with the twins, they rapidly developed life-threatening TTTS. “It was so severe that I needed surgery the day I was diagnosed,” Theresa says.
Using minimally invasive fetal laser surgery, doctors can stop the negative impacts of TTTS while the babies are still in the womb. The St. Louis Fetal Care Institute is one of the few fetal care centers in the United States to offer this procedure.
During the surgery, a laser is used to block the shared blood vessels. The surgeon inserts a pencil-tip-sized telescope in the mother’s uterus and examines the entire placenta to find the crossing blood vessels. Once these are all mapped, a tiny laser fiber is inserted and laser energy is used to stop the blood flow between the twins.
“Separating the twin blood flow could be compared to separating the placenta, allowing each twin to develop independently,” says Dr. Mike Vlastos, director of the Fetal Care Institute. Because of the high-risk nature of her pregnancy, Theresa was placed on bed rest after her surgery, and then hospitalized for nine weeks before giving birth at 37 weeks. “Because of the Fetal Care Institute, I felt like I had my own team of specialists at my side 24/7 throughout the pregnancy,” Theresa says.
On Oct. 14, 2012, Theresa and her husband David welcomed two healthy boys into the world via Cesarean section. “Their follow-up appointments aren’t showing any signs of defects,” Theresa says. “There is very little size difference between the boys, which is common among TTTS babies. In fact, many days, my husband, daughter, and I have a hard time telling them apart.” says Theresa. “The boys are a glowing example of the importance of consistent monitoring and prenatal care, especially in the case of twins,” says Vlastos. “Without this, and the immediate access to fetal surgery they may not be here today.”
To help build awareness, the family is hosting a TTTS Awareness Night with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Sept. 7. “Until we went through this experience we had no idea that there were treatment options for rare diseases like this in St. Louis,” Theresa says. “We want to help make families aware that there are true professionals right here with the experience to help.” The baseball game will benefit the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute, to help future families who face a TTTS diagnosis.