The McCullough Conjoined Twins

Greta Morton, staff writer

Almost a year ago, 31 year old Army Reserves officer and Twin Cities mother Amber McCullough discovered she was expecting her second child. It was unplanned pregnancy from a new relationship last fall, but that wouldn’t be the only shocking news McCullough would receive. Soon into her second trimester, after a few regular doctor visits, she was asked to come in for another appointment. That day, the doctor not only revealed that was she carrying twin girls, but she was actually carrying conjoined twins, and only one of them could survive.

The doctor diagnosed the twins, Olivia and Hannah, with Thoraco-omphalo-ischiopagus-tripus conjoinment, a type of conjoinment meaning the girls were joined at the chest, stomach and hips. Although they were each born with their own hearts and kidneys, they also shared a liver, intestinal tract, and a third leg.

“I don’t think a baby is ever bad news, it can be hard news and it was, but I figured whatever life throws at me I’m determined enough to take on,” said McCullough in an interview with KARE 11 News.

As McCullough and the twins’ health got more complicated, McCullough was advised by her doctor to travel to Colorado, where she could receive better treatment for the condition. At the Colorado Fetal Care Center a surgical separation could be performed while the babies were still attached to the mother’s placenta. Chances of survival for Olivia were slim, but going to Colorado meant more hope for Hannah to survive.

Though McCullough received harsh criticism from some for deciding to continue the pregnancy, she chose to go to the care center in Colorado. There, she gave birth to the babies via cesarean section at just 32 weeks. The girls were then separated in a 5 hour long surgery. Hannah was indeed the healthier twin; Olivia being born with a weak heart that was missing valves and only had a single ventricle.

During the surgery, doctors say Hannah lost her whole blood volume over three times. The separation of Hannah and Olivia’s fused liver caused Hannah’s heart to stop due to blood loss. Though the surgery was a success, it was necessary for Hannah to be placed on a special ventilator for premature babies. She continued to struggle with low blood pressures, fluid in her lungs, and jaundice. Olivia didn’t survive, as expected.

McCullough said that Hannah is now placed on a feeding tube and continues to show positive signs of strength and cognition. “She is very much aware who her mommy is. She hears my voice and looks for me. … She responds well when I read to her,” said McCullough. Hannah, though doing better, remains in a condition described as “very critical.”

Despite the situation, this Army Reserves officer remains strong. “I will never quit. I will never accept defeat. … With my girls lies a message of life, strength, beauty,” said McCullough. “I’m confident we will feel Olivia with us each night.”