Divine power displayed in a father’s struggle.
by Greg Lincoln as told to Sherri Langton
“I have some concerns.”
The ultrasound technician finally spoke, breaking a long silence while studying the picture of my wife’s womb. Two heads, four arms – twins eleven weeks old. But only two legs were visible, perhaps a third, instead of four. Are the babies just close together? I wondered as I stared at the ultrasound. But the technician and doctors told us later that they saw the image as confirmation of shocking news: our twin babies were conjoined.
I had heard the word conjoined three weeks earlier when the first ultrasound was taken, but had pushed it away in my mind. My wife, Vaneice, and I had three other beautiful children – Mikayla, 9; Troy, 6; and Annelise, 4 – all healthy kids, all gifts from God. My faith revealed Him as a God of goodness, a God of miracles. If something were wrong with our unborn babies, He would heal them in the womb.
* * *
Over the next four months, our emotions rose and fell. We found out the twins were girls. But in each follow-up appointment, the doctors failed to find a fourth leg in the ultrasound. Their talk about how the twins were conjoined was so ambiguous, I felt they might be mistaken about the whole thing. I walked away from some appointments thinking, It’s not that bad. Maybe they just can’t find the fourth leg and there’s only minor conjoining. Other times, though, I wasn’t so sure. This sounds scary.
Needing more definite answers and expertise, Vaneice and I drove to Children’s Hospital in Seattle on December 23, 1999, and met with Dr. John Waldhausen, a pediatric surgeon. He not only confirmed that the girls were conjoined but also showed us a diagram of how it looked. He said they were ischiopagus tripus twins, meaning they were joined all the way from their breastbone to their pelvis and shared a third leg. There was no fourth leg.
As the doctor explained statistics and risks, I couldn’t take them in. I don’t believe it, I said to myself as I studied the diagram. The twins can’t be joined like this.
Vaneice and I left the hospital in shock and emotional turmoil. Although bewildered, we soon decided that in the event Dr. Waldhausen was correct, we would pursue a surgery that would separate the twins, but only if both girls had an excellent chance of survival.
We never considered aborting them. The culture says it’s easy and legal to terminate the pregnancy, but we believe that there is a God and that no one has the right to take a human life just because it’s imperfect or inconvenient. Thus far we had seen the twins only in ultrasound images. Though they apparently shared a misshaped body, we loved them and wanted them as much as we loved and wanted our other children. We felt confident that God would see us through this trial – but how?
While I worked and Vaneice managed our home, we prayed for a miracle – that the doctors were wrong, that all the evidence we saw wasn’t true. We asked God to heal our babies in the womb. If they ended up being conjoined, we asked Him that they’d both have all vital body parts so they could be separated and live.
* * *
But when Vaneice delivered Kathleen Faith and Charity Mae by Cesarean section on February 21, 2000, my faith plummeted. I walked into the birthing suite and saw my daughters conjoined, just as Dr. Waldhausen had said. Charity looked as though she was coming out of Kathleen’s stomach. While I took in the sight, devastated, the medical staff in the room responded with “Congratulations!” and “They’re beautiful!”
The twins were beautiful to me; they were my children. But I struggled to accept the responses of outsiders as genuine. How can they act as though nothing is wrong when my children are so severely conjoined?
Vaneice, in another room and still groggy from the C-section, hadn’t seen the twins yet. “They’re conjoined,” I told her. “It looks pretty bad.”
Sensing my emotions, she encouraged me, “We’ll get through it.”
Later in the intensive care unit, I stood before the girls, looking down on their young, sweet souls. “What are their names?” a nurse quietly asked.
“Kathleen and Charity,” I replied. My tears began flowing; I wept uncontrollably. Saying nothing, the nurse stood by me and put her arm around me. I will never forget that act of compassion.
My hopes and faith seemed to drain from me. All the energy we had poured into praying, asking for a miracle. What happened? Has God forsaken me? Looking at the twins lying in their crib, I couldn’t imagine how they could be separated without a miracle. With my prayers seemingly unanswered, would a miracle come?
* * *
Over the next few months, I tried to pray but felt as though the breath had gone out of me. The words slipped out in hushed tones. On a conscious level, I prayed that Kathleen and Charity would have all the necessary parts so they could be successfully separated. On a deeper level, I also wondered why God would allow this to happen to our children. I didn’t place the blame on Him, though. He had seen me through a horrible bout with Crone’s disease in 1998, when I spent two weeks in the hospital and nearly died. Also, when Vaneice carried our son, Troy, doctors expressed concern about his development; but thanks to the prayers of many, he’s in perfect health.
Still, the question of why this was happening filled my mind. Instead of blaming the God who had remained faithful in the past, I could only look inward to place blame. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith to pray for healthy babies. Maybe I’m apart from God. Maybe, maybe, maybe. . . .
In this sinister, nightmarish time, I felt as though I were on a stretcher, with Jesus carrying one end and His church carrying the other. Sometimes Christian friends just asking “Can I pray with you?” and “Is there anything you need?” lightened the burden.
* * *
As our lives went on, Vaneice and I adjusted to diapering and feeding conjoined twins and keeping up with our other kids. A friend of Vaneice’s sister – an Idaho Church member – and my mom made special clothes for the twins. Gradually, I accepted the conjoining God had allowed. I saw it as a terrible thing that happened to God’s children because we live in a fallen world.
I began to focus more on the upcoming surgery for separating the girls. The doctors discovered that they had two livers, fused together. They shared a bladder, part of the small intestine, and all of the colon. Their reproductive organs and pelvises were fused. The doctors confirmed that though both girls had an equal chance of survival, there were still significant risks. They gave a 15 percent chance that either Kathleen or Charity – or both – would die during the procedure. Nevertheless, we set September 30 for the surgery.
Three months before the operation, plastic surgeons inserted fluid-filled tissue expanders beneath the girls’ skin in their chest and flanks. This would help their skin stretch to cover the large gap in their sides created by the surgery. Twice a week Vaneice injected fluid into the expanders. Are we making the right decision? I wondered as she guided the needle into their skin. So much has to happen for separation to work.
Other questions surfaced as well. What choice do we have? If the twins remain together, how will they get around? In a special wheelchair? A special car? How will they adjust socially?
* * *
At Children’s Hospital the day of the surgery, Vaneice and I prayed over Kathleen and Charity, committing them to God first and then releasing them to a team of more than 30 medical personnel. I thought about the trauma they would face in the coming hours, believing things would work out. We waited with family, uplifted by God’s peace that could come only because so many were praying. The nurse’s positive updates during the surgery sustained us even more.
Thirty hours later, on October 1, Vaneice and I saw Charity for the first time apart from her sister. Kathleen’s surgery took another hour. When I finally saw both girls, I felt as though I were in a dream. So much turmoil before, so many questions. I’d been so careful to guard my hope. Now I saw a miracle of God in creating separate bodies for our precious daughters.
* * *
Kathleen and Charity have celebrated their first birthday. About thirty friends and family came, and we had two cakes. At different times since the surgery, I’ve thanked the Lord for what He’s done, but especially one recent evening. As I watched them play on the living room floor, smiling and crawling and laughing, it struck me how things seem so normal. Thank You, Jesus, I said to myself again.
But challenges still face us: a minor surgery for Kathleen; surgery for both girls to reconnect their small bowels with their large bowels; Charity’s scoliosis caused by the conjoining and her left rib cage, pushed up, that needs to come down to normal position; the question of how the girls will get around, since there’s no hip socket or stub on which to attach a prosthetic leg.
No matter what happens, Vaneice and I will do whatever it takes to help the girls. More than ever, I see how important it is to be committed to our kids, to fight for them. Obviously, not just my children but all children need their parents’ unswerving commitment. I’m glad that God’s grace enabled Vaneice and me to help our kids and that He honors that commitment with His miracle-working power.
Top: Two teams of more than 30 pediatric surgeons performed the 31-hour surgery.
Bottom: A happy threesome: Mom Vaneice with her twin daughters. Photos: Children’s Hospital, Seattle, WA