By Jamie Reid, The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas
Apr. 17–BEAUMONT — Talkative and tight-jeaned twins Tiesha and Iesha Turner seem like any other high school sophomores as they chat about boys, church and music.
Yet as the conversation turns toward surgeries and scars, these girls, who were born conjoined at the chest and abdomen, admit reaching their 16th birthday on Thursday marks a medical miracle.
“But, we really don’t talk about it,” Tiesha said while sitting in front of baby pictures her grandmother, 51-year-old Lark Turner, has pulled out of albums and frames.
In the baby photos, Tiesha and Iesha wear matching blue-and-white silk dresses that were snapped together to fit around the girls’ conjoined body.
At birth, the twins shared a liver and sternum while their intestines were entwined. Although each girl had her own heart, the organs were fused together side-by-side.
Conjoined twins occur once every 200,000 live births, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. About 40 to 60 percent of the twins arrive stillborn, and about 35 percent survive only one day. The overall survival rate of conjoined twins is somewhere between 5 and 25 percent, according to the university hospital where a team of 35 medical professionals separated 6-month-old twins in April 2002.
The Turner family didn’t realize that Jacqueline Turner, the twins’ mother, was pregnant with conjoined twins until she arrived at Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital. Although Beaumont doctors knew Jacqueline was pregnant with twins, they could only hear one heart.
She was rushed to St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, where a team of doctors gathered to deliver the conjoined girls. Jacqueline had a Cesarean section, delivering the babies with no problems.
“Their eyes were open and they were fine,” said Lark Turner, the twins’ grandma. “They were home in May.”
For the next 14 months, the girls grew larger and stronger — readying for the separation surgery on June 9, 1992, at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
The separation surgery left Iesha with an ileostomy, which means waste from her small intestine emptied into an outside bag through a surgical opening in her abdomen. Tiesha, who suffered respiratory distress, had a tracheotomy after the surgery. Although the device is long gone, Tiesha now has a divot-like scar at the center of her throat.
Each girl has been through about three subsequent surgeries.
Last year, Houston doctors narrowed Iesha’s protruding chest bone. Although she acts like it’s no big deal — barely worth mentioning, in fact — her grandmother mentions that doctors had to break three ribs during the surgery.
“No, I wasn’t scared,” said Iesha. “I was waiting for it.”
Child therapist Tanya Goldbeck of Beaumont said the twins likely worry about the surgeries, but get through them by concentrating on the long-term goal: improving their health and appearance.
The twins said they can do almost anything other girls their age can.
“It’s no biggie,” Tiesha said. “It’s just that sometimes you want to wear a bikini.”
Iesha lifts her shirt a few inches above her jeans to reveal a deep scar that runs like a sideways smile across her belly.
“People ask me to see it, but I tell them no,” Tiesha said of her matching mark.
Iesha has shown some close friends her stomach, but mostly keeps it hidden under long shirts.
The twins, sophomores at Ozen High School, have taken some baby pictures to school to show curious friends, Tiesha said.
“They ask me if it’s true,” she said.
The girls don’t seem embarrassed by their baby photos.
“I’m not conjoined anymore,” said Tiesha, who colors her hair honey brown. “I don’t worry about what other people say.”
They also haven’t thought much about what their lives would have been like if they had been born 50 years ago, before separation surgeries were possible.
Instead, the identical sisters — who are easy to tell apart because Iesha’s chin is wider — think about possible birthday gifts: an hour-long massage, a new car, a tattoo on Tiesha’s ankle.
“I wanted to rent a limo, but my sister said no,” said Tiesha, with a little pout on her lips. With an eye roll, Iesha said she didn’t want to waste hundreds of dollars on a ride across town.
Although these girls were once as close as could be, they clearly have their own personalities.
Iesha, “the shy one,” is in honors classes and wants to become a lawyer. Tiesha, who wants to become a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital, is outgoing and, according to her sister, “a fake.”
“Are you jealous of me?” Tiesha snaps.
Like most siblings, the Turner twins can get on each other’s nerves.
Yet, they are lucky to have each other, Goldbeck said, explaining that the girls have a unique story that most people can’t quite understand. However, they relate to each other.
If they are brave, they could share their story with other people, Goldbeck said.
“It could be very, very meaningful,” she said. “This is a story that could give others confidence and strength.”
The twins haven’t thought much about becoming microphones for any particular cause, but they aren’t ruling it out either.
“I hope I’ve taught them to be themselves,” Lark Turner said. “There is nothing they can’t accomplish if they put their mind to it.”
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas
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