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When women visit Jin-Chung Shih, it’s almost always because their doctor suspects there’s a problem with the pregnancy. Shih runs the labor ward at National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei, and a recent visit from an expectant mother who was 31 weeks pregnant was no different. The woman’s gynecologist suspected the twins she was carrying suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. This means that one twin gets almost all the amniotic fluid from the shared placenta while the other gets too little.
Shih is well known around Taipei because of his arsenal of advanced imaging machines that enables him to see precisely what’s going on inside the mother’s body. One of the machines is a special ultrasound system that uses high-speed computing to create a stream of detailed 3D images and play it over time like a movie. Shih says that the machine, which was developed by GE Healthcare, enables him to see things like the motion of the fetal heart wall or how blood is flowing through various vessels. He can also use it to detect certain genetic conditions by observing the characteristics of the face and skull.
The Voluson E8 4D ultrasound system confirmed that the twins did have twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. “To prevent irreversible change — including damage to the central nervous system — we decided to perform a cesarean section the following day,” Shih says. “The risk of preterm birth was less than fetal surgery.”
Shih says he used the 4D scans to prepare for the surgery. He could see clearly what the inside of the womb would look like and anticipate where the twins would be located.
Then, during the operation, something amazing happened. “The hand of one twin suddenly extended outside the uterine cavity and tensely grasped my finger like a drowning person grasping a floating piece of wood,” he says. “It looked like a call for help to me. Everyone here held their breath. Although nobody taught the little baby, she presented a strong wish to survive. I felt touched. It’s a moment I will never forget.”
Shih captured the moment in a remarkable photograph he now keeps as a reminder about the power of our inherent will to survive.
After the successful surgery, the twins were moved into neonatal care where doctors were able to nurse them to health. Today, says Shih, they are 8 months old and happy and healthy.