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Medical breakthrough saves parents from making terrible choice

ENGLEWOOD – Shannon and Mike Gimbel faced an agonizing choice. Doctors told them one of the twin girls they were expecting needed to be terminated or both would die.

It was a crushing blow for the couple trying to have their first child, after a previous miscarriage of twins.

"You stop having faith," Shannon said. "You start believing you're not supposed to have children this way."

Doctors at Swedish Medical Center had diagnosed Gimbel's twins with Twin-To-Twin Syndrome, or TTTS. It is a condition in which the twins are connected by blood vessels. One twin literally drains the life out of the other.

TTTS affects 10 to 15 percent of identical twin pregnancies where the twins share a placenta. Left untreated, there is an 80 to 90 percent chance that one or both will die.

Shannon and Mike struggled with the suggestion to terminate the weaker baby.

"I didn't want to go that route for sure," said Mike.

"I was prepared to make that decision reluctantly," said Shannon.

She feared if a second pregnancy ended with miscarriage, she might not be able to conceive again.

That is when their physician at Swedish, Dr. Kent Heyborne, approached them with another option. He'd made contact with Drs. Robert Bell and Michael Belfort of St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bell and Belfort were willing to fly to Colorado, where Shannon was on bed rest, to perform a pioneering surgery.

Bell and Belfort have flown to several states to perform their technique and train local doctors.

The Utah surgeons teamed with those at Swedish to perform laser surgery in the womb to cauterize the blood vessels that were connecting, and slowly killing, the twins.

The surgery took place in April.

Shannon says she remembers holding her breath as a nurse used an ultrasound to listen for heartbeats after the surgery. One, then another. Both girls had made it.

Reese and McKenna Gimbel were born at Swedish on June 27.

"I cherish every single moment with them," Shannon said. "Three o'clock in the morning with two screaming babies really isn't that bad."

"Just seeing them grow, seeing them smile, seeing them develop and change, and holding them close, it's fantastic," Mike said.

Reese, the weaker twin inside the womb, has undergone two heart surgeries since birth, but her parents say she is doing as well as can be expected.

Both girls are active, happy, and just beginning to notice one another, clasping hands as they lay on their backs on the living room floor.

Shannon and Mike were smiling nearby.

"We're full," said Shannon. "We're happy."

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