Editor's note: Two months ago, the Ledger-Enquirer published a story, photos and video about the local couple expecting conjoined twins. Since then, we've been reporting periodic updates. Here's another one.
The weekly ultrasounds already had revealed separate images of their conjoined twins, but Robin and Michael Hamby hadn't seen their budding boys' faces together -- until this week, the 35th of this rare pregnancy.
They finally have a photo to show the world what Asa and Eli will look like. And that image is another reason for this 34-year-old Ladonia couple to have hope, hope against the odds that their sons will be born healthy when they are scheduled to be delivered by cesarean section in two weeks.
"It makes the realization start to set in," said Michael, a hydrant valve technician for the Columbus Water Works. "They look good. It's exciting."
"I definitely can picture them more in my mind now," said Robin, on leave from her nursing jobs at Regional Rehabilitation Hospital and Parkwood Healthcare, both in Phenix City. Then she added with a laugh, "But they've always been real to me because I can feel every bump and movement they make."
According to the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, conjoined twins occur once in every 50,000 to 60,000 births and most are stillborn.
Statistics from the University of Maryland Medical Center are additionally daunting: 35 percent of conjoined twins survive only one day, the overall survival rate is between 5 and 25 percent, and female conjoined twins are three times more likely than males to be born alive.
Even more unusual is how the Hamby boys are connected, side by side, a category among the least common types of conjoined twins. They have one trunk and one set of arms and legs but two separate heads. The technical term is dicephalic parapagus.
Although doctors won't be sure until the babies are born, Robin said, scans indicate the following breakdown of their anatomy:
Separate: esophaguses, stomachs, intestines, kidneys (one each), ureters, bladders (fused together), gall bladders (fused together) and spinal cords.
Shared: heart and liver.
Combined: lungs; they each have one lung and share a third lung.
Unknown: pancreas and spleen.
As the growing twins run out of room in Robin's womb, Michael sometimes feels helpless to soothe his wife's pain.
"It's awful, man," he said. "I try every day in my power to make her at ease, but it's hard. It really is."
Michael, however, has been able to help take care of Selah, their 21-month-old daughter, and prepare their sons' nursery. He is an airbrush artist, and he painted a farm mural on the walls.
"So I'm ready," he said, "but I'm scared to death."
He is scared that, despite healthy reports throughout the pregnancy, "in the back of your mind, you know it can go to hell in a handbasket real quick."
And he is scared that the low blood pressure Robin experienced while delivering Selah might recur in a more dangerous way this time. But he is emboldened when doctors marvel at Robin's strength.
"They are astonished that she has gone this far," Michael said. "Most conjoined twins are delivered anywhere from 32 to 35 weeks, and she's going to 37, which is full term for a normal set of twins."
Michael calls Robin “a superwoman” for her perseverance. She calls him “the sweetest person ever” for doing extra duties around the house without complaint.
It's difficult for Robin to sleep through the night, and her swollen legs limit her activity during the day, but she still considers herself blessed.
"A lot of pregnant women, even with single babies, are worse off than me," she said. "I could be stuck in a hospital and praying the babies stay in there at 28 weeks. So when I start to feel whiny, I'm grateful I am home with Michael and Selah - and thank God I can get out of bed and go to the bathroom when I have to."
Robin also lifts her spirit when she reminds herself of this journey's goal.
"I've carried the babies so long, the anticipation is building," she said. "I'm excited to see the babies and hold the babies and just maybe have more answers to the questions we have."
The most pressing medical questions are whether the enlarged liver the twins share has herniated their diaphragm as it pushes against Asa's lung and whether that lung will be fully developed.
After the doctor expressed his concern, Michael felt compelled to look up a Bible verse on his phone.
"The Lord spoke to me and told me to turn to Genesis 2:7," he said. So amid the muddle of unknowns, the Hambys found clarity in their faith when they read these words:
"Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."
"It was like God is telling us that if He can create Adam from dust, He can make our babies' lungs work," Robin said.
"It was powerful," Michael said. "It's comforting to have this peace that these boys are coming home."
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.
HOW TO HELP
Money is being raised to help the Hambys pay for their conjoined twins' medical expenses.
"It's amazing and humbling," Robin said. "The world talks about how everybody is caught up in their own selves, but that's not the way God calls us to be, and there are so many people who do look past themselves. They've been really awesome."
Donations may be made:
To the Hamby Twins Benefit account at any branch of Wells Fargo.
Online at http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/the-hamby-twins/196882.
READ PREVIOUS STORIES
Click on this article at www.ledger-enquirer.com for the L-E's original story about the Hamby twins, plus photos and a video, as well as previous updates.