PEOSTA - Amber Blum had never heard of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome until her 20-week ultrasound.
A month later, she was blazing a trail for a co-worker who also dealt with the rare condition affecting identical twins.
"I had the ultrasound - did the whole doctor's appointment and left," Blum said. "I was in the elevator going down when my phone rang and the doctor said, 'Let's look a little closer.'"
TELEGRAPH HERALD PHOTO
In this Sept. 20 photo, Amber Blum poses with her twins Aliyah, left, and Alyssa, in Peosta, Iowa. Blum had never heard of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome until last year, when the condition affected her then unborn twins. The now-5-month-old girls survived thanks to laser surgery performed in Cincinnati before they were born.
The closer look showed one of Blum's developing twins was deprived of amniotic fluid - seemingly shrink-wrapped in the single placenta the twins shared.
Within two days after several consultations with doctors in Iowa City, Blum found herself in Cincinnati for laser surgery to sever blood vessels the twins shared, hopefully averting a potentially fatal danger.
"In utero, the fear was cardiac failure," she said.
Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome is a disease of the placenta that affects identical twin pregnancies, characterized by abnormal blood vessels within a shared placenta. The blood vessels or an unequal sharing of the placenta can cause one twin to receive fewer nutrients necessary for normal growth or survival.
Both infants can have problems depending upon the severity of the transfusion. Blood can be disproportionately transfused from one twin to the other.
"It's a very fast-progressing syndrome," Blum said.
It's also uncommon.
Only about 3,185 TTTS cases occur annually in the United States, according to estimates.
"Women who are pregnant must find out if they are pregnant with multiples within the first 12 weeks, hopefully by week eight," said Mary Slaman-Forsythe, founder and president of the Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Foundation. "If they are, then they need to immediately ask if there is one placenta or two. If there is one, then they are at risk for TTTS."
Blum is a first-grade teacher at Dubuque's Prescott Elementary School. A month after her diagnosis, Blum's Prescott co-worker Stacy Pollock received a routine ultrasound during her pregnancy.
"In 30 minutes, I found out I was having twins and they had twin-to-twin," Pollock said.
Pollock also underwent laser surgery, then spent weeks hospitalized before the twins' birth.
Blum and her husband, Tony, welcomed Aliyah and Alyssa into the world 5 1/2 months ago, joining older siblings Peyton (age 4) and Mallory (age 2). Pollock and her husband, Jeremy - with 12-year-old daughter Elizabeth - were joined by Lillian and Arielle 4 1/2 months ago.
"This has definitely been a learning experience," Pollock said.
The health problems associated with TTTS don't necessarily end with birth. Some twins can be born with increased blood pressure and the risk of cardiac failure. Other twins can be born with anemia.
Arielle Pollock remains half the size of her sister, and both the Pollock twins remain on oxygen. Without further complications, little Arielle should catch up with her sister by toddler age.
Having experienced TTTS, Blum and Pollock want to raise awareness of the syndrome for other mothers of developing twins. "The more information we can get out," Blum said, "the more babies we can save."
Information from: Telegraph Herald, www.thonline.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.