Jacksonville couple expecting conjoined twin boys

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The birth of a child is supposed to be the happiest moment of a parent's life.

But a Jacksonville family is bracing for the possibility their hearts could be broken when their twin boys are born.

And that is assuming the babies are carried to full-term.

"There is still a big chance I could miscarry," said Michelle Brantley.

Brantley and her fiance, Bryan Mirabal, are expecting what could be the area's first case of conjoined twins.

"I don't even know how to talk about it because I've never been through it. I don't have anyone who can say, 'I have been through this and I understand what you're going through,'" Mirabal said.

The couple had their first child, Gage, less than one year ago. Then, they started using birth control because they wanted to wait to grow their family even more.

"I was trying to wait five or six years," Brantley said.

But, this past spring, doctors delivered some unexpected news that was both shocking and life-changing.

The birth control apparently did not work and Brantley and Mirabal were expecting twins.

"That was really crazy. We were like, 'Twins?!' Twins don't even run in our families at all," Brantley said.

At first, the couple said they were thrilled to find out they were going to be parents again.

But, a few months later, doctors returned with even more news that wasn't so positive. It was news that expectant families almost never hear.

"It was hard. It was really, really hard. From a fatherly point of view, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through," Mirabal said.

The couple's boys, which they intend to name Carter and Conner, are connected facing each other from their sternums to their upper waist lines.

They also share a few vital organs like a liver and a bladder.

"I couldn't really say anything. I was just trying to wrap my head around it," Brantley recalled about the day they received the prognosis.

But, according to the couple's doctors, this particular positioning is one of the most common among conjoined twins and often leads to a successful separation after delivery.

Still, for a young couple struggling to get by, that comes as little comfort as they are already facing a number of challenges.

"The judgement we're getting is something else. There's people telling us we should have terminated the pregnancy. There's people telling us we shouldn't carry this out," Mirabal said.

Finances are a major burden right now, as well. Both Mirabal and Brantley are out of work, but do what they can with side jobs to provide for their family.

Mirabal said, "Financially, I am exhausted right now. I'm just doing what ever I can to better my life for my new family of five."

Conjoined twins like Carter and Conner are among the rarest pregnancies. Some research estimates that it happens between 1 in every 49,000 births and 1 in every 189,000.

Locally, at least one local doctor told First Coast News he would be surprised if it's ever happened in Jacksonville.

"It's an anomaly because we're not designed to have it happen," said Dr. Joseph Tepas III, a pediatric trauma surgeon at UF Health with 40 years of experience.

Dr. Tepas is not involved with Brantley's pregnancy, but agreed to speak to FCN as an expert in the field.

He said the goal with conjoined twins is separation after delivery, but it's such a high risk procedure that sometimes there are fatal consequences.

"You can see the ethical dilemmas that can occur, especially if it becomes obvious that separation will almost certainly result in the death of one of the two of them," he said.

In Mirabal and Brantley's case, the odds are devastating. Their doctors have told them there's only a 25% chance Carter and Conner will survive.

And, even if they do, the boys could face a lifetime of complications.

"If they're left conjoined, then we're left with all kinds of problems, worrying about terrible scoliosis of their spines and trying to grow apart from each other," Mirabal said.

But the couple, which openly discusses their pro-life beliefs, does not believe there is another option.

"All I want is to look forward to is see my little boys play with their brother one day," Mirabal said.

Brantley added that sometimes she holds herself back from breaking down from the emotion of it all. "I try not to stress too much about it because if I stress, they stress. I just try to stay calm for them. I have to."

So, for now, the two rely on their family, faith and each other to get through what they hope will be not one miracle, but two.

"Really, it's in God's hands. I can't control any bit of the outcome at all," Mirabal said.

Brantley's due date is in early January. The couple currently is working to finalize their surgical and delivery teams. They hope to have the procedures done in Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, the couple has also set up a Go Fund Me account. You can contribute by clicking here.


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