INTERVIEW

‘When I found out I was pregnant, I said we have to find out right away if it’s twins or just one. Thank heavens it’s just one.’

FELICIA SIMMS TALKS TO KEN MACQUEEN ABOUT THE RISK AND REWARDS OF CONJOINED TWINS, AND THE IMPENDING BIRTH OF HER FIFTH CHILD

May 5 2008
INTERVIEW

‘When I found out I was pregnant, I said we have to find out right away if it’s twins or just one. Thank heavens it’s just one.’

FELICIA SIMMS TALKS TO KEN MACQUEEN ABOUT THE RISK AND REWARDS OF CONJOINED TWINS, AND THE IMPENDING BIRTH OF HER FIFTH CHILD

May 5 2008

INTERVIEW

‘When I found out I was pregnant, I said we have to find out right away if it’s twins or just one. Thank heavens it’s just one.’

FELICIA SIMMS TALKS TO KEN MACQUEEN ABOUT THE RISK AND REWARDS OF CONJOINED TWINS, AND THE IMPENDING BIRTH OF HER FIFTH CHILD

The 18 months since the birth of conjoined twins Tatiana and Krista have been a whirlwind of happiness and health scares for their mother, Felicia Simms, father, Brendan Hogan, and for Felicia’s parents, Louise and Doug McKay. The girls are star attractions in their hometown of Vernon, B.C.; there was even a community first-birthday party with a “conjoined cake” of vanilla and chocolate. Now Simms, 22, is pregnant again, and due to deliver a daughter—her fifth child—April 25. “To begin with I was a little upset about it because it was a little too soon because of Tatiana and Krista needing so much attention,” says their grandmother, Louise, who helps raise the twins and Simm’s other two children, Rosa, 5, and Christopher, 3. “Now it’s grown on me and I’m kind of looking forward to it.” The McKays moved into a bright rental home, with space for their extended family. It’s a house with a grim history: 12 years ago it was the scene of B.C.’s largest mass murder. Nine members of a family were shot to death there and the gunman, the estranged husband of one victim, committed suicide. Louise says the landlords wanted a family to put love back in the house. “When I came in, I got a nice feeling,” Louise says. “You put your own karma in it.”

Congratulations, Felicia, on your pregnancy. It’s going to be a caesarean, I understand?

A: Thank you. It’s all booked, here at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

Q: Were you apprehensive about the pregnancy?

A: When I found out I was pregnant I went in to [the doctor] and said we have to find out right away whether it’s twins or just one. He got me an ultrasound right away at the hospital. Thank heavens it’s just one. I was like, okay, I’m good now.

Q: One of your family friends told me you were born to be a mother. Obviously, you’re

living up to your potential.

A: Everybody who knows me thinks of me that way, that I’m a great mom. I get told that every day by Toadie [her son, Christopher], so I guess I am. I just go through every day doing what I have to do for my kids.

Q: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but with four young children and you’re just 22, don’t you have enough on your plate?

A: I’ve decided from the very beginning, even after I had the girls, I wanted to try for another one. Didn’t expect it to be so soon. She’s going to be my last. I’ll be getting my tubes tied when I’m in the operating room.

Q: You know it’s a she?

A: Yeah, it’s a girl. Another one.

Q: I know you love fairies. Do you have a fairy name picked out?

A: Yes, it is. Her name is Shaylee. It means fairy queen of the field.

Q: Will you live with your parents?

A: I still have my own apartment. I’ll stay here [at her parents] for the first couple of weeks after the baby is born so I have time to heal and get everything organized. Then I’ll be going home.

Q: We haven’t talked about the father, Brendan. Is he still in the picture?

A: He’s in the picture with the girls and he does come around to help. He’s still here.

Q: How is he coping with the prospect of five?

A: Eh, [laughs] he’s okay with it. He loves kids, especially his own kids, so he’s really looking forward to another one. He knows it’s going to be really busy. He does really well. He was working. Right now he’s in the process of looking for a job.

Q: How have people in Vernon responded to your pregnancy?

A: They haven’t said much about my pregnancy, mostly they pay attention to the girls. I think after the baby is born we’ll be getting a lot more questions. But that’s fine.

Q: Still, five kids. I guess everyone has a different comfort level.

A: I’ve always been around big families. My mom had five and she’s always taking in

kids, so it’s always been normal for me. To have a big family is not a big deal for me.

Q: How are the twins doing?

A: They had a really rough winter but they’re doing well now. They’re at 13.9 kilograms. So they’re gaining weight, getting into trouble.

Q: And snoring, I hear them from here.

A: Snoring. They have to have their nap in the morning or they’re so cranky. They’re normal babies. They get around everywhere, they even get into the movies. They love the attention, they have to have attention 24/7

Q: They get physiotherapy—what for?

A: They come in and try to get their motor skills working properly.

Q: Are they trying to get them to crawl?

A: We’re trying to get them to tolerate being on their stomachs. They scream. We think if we can get them to tolerate their tummies then they’ll try to pick themselves up. That will hopefully get them crawling.

Q: Are you getting government help?

A: So far we’ve gotten everything we’ve needed. It’s still really hectic trying to keep up with their diapers and their food and everything, there’s so much of it. Other than that, their equipment from Sunny Hill [Health Centre for Children] is paid for. All their medical stuff is paid for. We’ve been lucky, so far we haven’t run into any bumps yet.

Q: There was a trust fund set up when the girls were born. Does that still exist?

A: I think it’s empty. We had to use quite a bit of it for their formula, their diapers and everything. It’s been rough but we make it, we skim through.

Q: How do you ensure that Christopher and Rosa don’t miss out on attention?

A: Rosa is really into wanting to feed them lately. She takes the jar and feeds one of them and I feed the other one. A lot of the time Christopher is playing games. He’s three years old and he loves Nintendo. He distracts himself with that. But he does like interacting with his sisters. He’ll give them hugs, give them kisses and then go back to his games.

Q: You’re always out and about in the com-

munity. You certainly haven’t hidden these girls away. What has the response been?

A We’ve got some negative, some good. We get people that come up and ask questions. And actually I prefer them to come up and ask questions and look at the girls and want to know stuff about them. We’ve also gotten negative reactions where little kids will look at them and their parents will cover their eyes and take them off. But it’s just the way they feel about it. We’ve gotten a lot of people say, ‘Oh, they’re so gor-

geous. On TV they look so much different.’ When they actually see them in person they go, ‘Oh wow.’

Q: Your mom thinks the girls share thoughts between themselves. Do you agree?

A: There’s a connection between the two in there somewhere. You can definitely tell they see out of each other’s eyes sometimes. When Krista looks at something and Tati can’t see it, Tati’s eyes stop moving. She’ll just pause and it’s almost as if she’s seeing what her sister is seeing on the other side. She stops, she stares. It’s very interesting to see.

Q: Do you think they turn it on and off?

A: It’s like they have this switch and they can turn it on whenever they want to see something their sister is looking at.

Q: Conceivably, they can read each other’s thoughts?

A: Pretty much.

Q: That’s eerie.

A: I think it would be cool sometimes to be able see what other people are seeing or feeling. But it is a little eerie. Actually being

'If they would tell us they’re going to die so you’re going to have to make a decision: either we separate them or they both die. Only then would I actually consider that.’

able to do that would be kind of odd.

Q: Do they get along?

A: They’re like normal sisters, they fight, they argue, they bicker. They fight over toys but for the most part they do get along. They babble at each other.

Q: How are you resolving things like high chairs?

A: They have a chair built for them by Sunny Hill. They came in to the house and they took measurements of the girls. They eat in that. They play in that.

Q: You said you could tell them apart even in the womb. How have their personalities

developed over time?

A: They’re still completely different from each other. Krista is still rambunctious, wanting to go everywhere. She talks. She’s the mean one; she’s quite the bully, especially when she’s cranky, she likes to pick on her sister quite a bit. Tati is really laid back. She’s patient with everything, she’s quite the kid.

Q: But Tati’s heart has to do all the work.

A: They think that’s why she’s more patient. Her heart pumps all the blood and her kidneys filter it for both of them. Krista does some filtering, but not half as much as Tati.

Q: Because of that I gather there is concern Tati isn’t gaining much weight?

A: She’s still quite tiny. They don’t expect her to get very big just because of how much work she does do.

Q: You had a scare in November when you had to rush back to Vancouver.

A: Yeah, they had pneumonia for two months and nobody caught it in Vernon. [In Vancouver] they were put in isolation for 11 days. Tati’s heart had worked so hard during

those two months that she was really run down. They said within a couple of more weeks we would have lost them.

Q:Are there any medical options to correct the imbalance between the two?

A: They took more scans when we were there to see if Krista had grown more veins [in the shared brain lobe]. I think they got quite a positive scan but they don’t want to do anything until it’s a necessary thing. If Tati went into complete heart failure then they would probably go ahead and do a procedure to try to block some blood flow in their brains and see if it will transfer over to Krista, to get Krista to do her own work.

Q: That would obviously be a very complex operation.

A: Yes it would be very risky. They can have strokes or heart attacks during that operation so it’s only if necessary, if Tati was to go into heart failure, that us or the doctors would even think of doing it.

Q: Is there is a circumstance when they would have to consider separation?

A: Only if Tati were to go into complete heart failure and that [other] procedure didn’t work. Then they would tell us they’re going to die so you’re going to have to make a decision: either we separate them or they both die. Only then would I actually consider that, but it’s in my thoughts.

Q: That one may die to save the other?

A: Yes.

Q: The mind boggles. I saw that a medical journal called your twins “a tragedy that never shoidd have happened.” As a mother, how do you respond to that?

A: I don’t really. I kind of ignore them. It just doesn’t bother me. They have their own opinion. It’s a free world, they can say what they want. I just go day by day loving my girls as they are. M

ON THE WEB: For more photos of the family please go to www.macleans.ca/twins