APOPKA, Fla. – After undergoing a successful separation surgery, an Orlando-area father to a set of conjoined twins is sharing his daughters' survival story.
The girls, as their father Andre Pitre calls them, faced staggering odds from the time their mother, Angi, had her eight-week sonogram in Orlando.
"We were able to see two heartbeats," Pitre said.
At the same appointment, their obstetrician told the couple he had a suspicion that the twins were conjoined. Right away, Pitre said they were made aware of the challenges ahead, knowing up to 60 percent of conjoined twins are stillborn.
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The couple, their 14-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son would make several trips to and from Gainesville for testing. Each time, the twins, named Jesi and Remi, proved to be thriving.
"At one point, one of the OBs actually said, 'This is really odd because, aside from them being stuck together, they're absolutely perfect babies,'" Pitre said.
Throughout his wife's pregnancy, Pitre began his own research and said the odds would become more complex for his daughters after their birth.
What organs would they share? Would the twins survive a separation surgery? Would there be post-surgery complications? The questions never ended for their family.
Born via C-section on May 15, the girls appeared to be hugging, locked at the abdomen. A team of surgeons and a large multidisciplinary team at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital performed scans to determine whether the babies would be able to survive a separation surgery. First, they needed to determine which organs the babies shared.
"It was impossible to predict exactly which part, but we could tell it was probably the large intestine," said Saleem Islam, M.D., M.P.H. and chief of the division of pediatric surgery at the UF College of Medicine.
Dr. Islam's team determined the twins also shared one large liver, which would be challenging to separate because it is a vascular organ and bleeding was a concern. On July 23, the team began the delicate five-hour surgery to separate the babies.
"We had intraoperative ultrasounds to determine where the biggest vessels were and we were able to divide those," Islam said. "Now, we had two babies."
Those words brought the Pitre parents to tears that day, two months after their daughters were born.
While not a statistic, Pitre said he considers his daughters' survival a miracle.
"It would seem that the girls are approximately smaller than a one in 20 million chance of them being as well-off as they are," Pitre said.
UF Health Shands neonatal intensive care unit officially discharged Remi on Oct. 4, and her sister, Jesi, two months later. They will spend their first Christmas together as a family.
"There was a point where we kind of felt pressured to not have them, and I dare say, it would have been a shame, a terrible shame to think that they wouldn't have made it here, because I can promise you these little girls are going to do something," Pitre said.
Now that the babies are able to go home, doctors said they've achieved the first phase of their care. Their parents have started a GoFundMe to help with ongoing medical bills.
The girls will continue to visit UF Health for procedures in the future.
Since 2016, UF Health has cared for four sets of conjoined twins.