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How one family gives back after surviving Twin-twin Transfusion syndrome (TTTS)

Photo credit: Lot Five Studios.

Patricia King-Ritter will never forget July 4, 2008 — the day her twin daughters first beat the odds.

About five weeks before that Independence Day, an 18-week ultrasound revealed that King-Ritter’s identical twin girls had twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a serious condition that occurs in about 10% to 15% of pregnancies with identical twins that share one placenta.

In TTTS, blood vessel connections within the placenta allow the fetuses to share a blood supply and can cause unequal blood flow. Since one twin (donor twin) pumps blood to the other twin (recipient twin), this can cause the donor twin to not receive enough blood and the recipient twin to receive too much.

Mild cases of TTTS may only require careful monitoring during the pregnancy. In severe cases, the condition may require surgery. If untreated, one or both twins may die.

When King-Ritter heard the TTTS diagnosis, she remained calm and believed everything would be OK.

“I try to always think positive,” she said. “I knew we had a great medical center and I never really thought of the negative. I took it one week at a time.”

From diagnosis to lifesaving surgery and beyond

Initially, King-Ritter had an ultrasound every two weeks to monitor the girls’ development. When she was 23 weeks pregnant, she experienced polyhydramnios, which is an excess accumulation of amniotic fluid — the fluid that surrounds babies in the uterus during pregnancy. Excess amniotic fluid can put both the mother and babies at risk of complications.

She was immediately directed to Texas Children’s Fetal Center where she was told that if she did not have surgery, her babies would likely die. The survival rate for twins with severe TTTS is less than 5%. 

On July 4, 2008, King-Ritter had fetal intervention surgery at Texas Children’s to separate the blood vessel connections so the girls would no longer share a blood supply. The surgery was a success.

But four weeks later — when she was 27 weeks pregnant — King-Ritter experienced complications that required her to deliver her “tiny, but mighty” twin girls, Ellie and Kia, who weighed less than 2 pounds each.

The twins were immediately transferred to Texas Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where they spent their first eight weeks. While there, the girls not only grew stronger each day, they also experienced many firsts. This included their first hurricane — Hurricane Ike — a category 2 hurricane that made landfall in September 2008.

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No matter what storms the family weathered during their medical journey before and after the twins were born, King-Ritter always stayed positive.

Now 11, Ellie and Kia are happy and healthy tweens. Ellie loves playing softball, while Kia is passionate about drawing.

“Without Texas Children’s, I know my girls wouldn’t be here today,” said King-Ritter. “I never one time panicked or thought I would lose my children because I knew they were in the best hands at Texas Children’s.”

From grateful patients to long-time Ambassadors

Because of the lifesaving care her daughters received at Texas Children’s, King-Ritter did not hesitate to say ‘yes’ when she was asked to join Ambassadors for Texas Children’s Hospital when it first launched in 2009. She has been an Ambassador and strong supporter ever since.

For more than a decade, members of Ambassadors for Texas Children's Hospital have worked to provide a strong voice for the patients of Texas Children's, supporting them through philanthropic donations and active engagement within the greater Houston community.

About 1,200 individuals in more than 700 households are Ambassadors. Together, they have raised more than $17 million to support areas of greatest need at Texas Children’s.

Throughout the year, Ambassadors have the opportunity to participate in various educational activities and social events, including holiday parties, a Family Fun Day each spring, and Ambassadors On Call events that feature special guest lecturers and renowned health experts, question-and-answer sessions with leading scientists and physicians, and behind-the-scenes tours of operating rooms and research facilities.

“Texas Children’s is doing everything they can to make a better world for our children,” she said. “I don’t have the words to describe the gratitude we have for Texas Children’s. Being an Ambassador is the least that we can do.”   

To learn more about Ambassadors for Texas Children’s Hospital or to become an Ambassador so you and your family can attend the upcoming Family Fun Day, please call 832-824-6900 or email ambassadors@texaschildrens.org. Annual participation in Ambassadors for Texas Children’s Hospital begins at $1,000. Several levels of participation are also available.


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Patricia King-Ritter