In some respects, the story of Caitlin Copeland’s early life can feel to her like it happened to someone else. But then she remembers the scar, a reminder she’s missing a part of herself in the form of her identical twin, Emily.
After a risky pregnancy, the two came into the world conjoined at the chest in 1996, sharing a liver but, significantly, not a heart. They were separated at 10 months and their respective livers regenerated.
And they thrived. They remained inseparable the way twins do, growing up in their parents’ Houston home, taking the same classes, being hypercompetitive and being co-valedictorians of their graduating class at Lutheran High North, until Caitlin left for college at Concordia University Texas, where she’s now starting her sophomore year.
Caitlin was accepted to Texas A&M University, where her family has a history, but then Concordia came through with an offer that included a scholarship. She also liked the relative intimacy. No Intro to Whatever classes in auditoriums holding 500 students. Her church will reimburse her family for most of her tuition upon graduating, and she wants to teach junior or senior high school English in a private school, like the one she attended.
Emily stayed a little closer to home, studying hotel and restaurant management at the University of Houston.
“I always knew we would branch off,” said Caitlin, now 19. “I just had to cut the cord.”
She was a little bit famous even before she arrived on campus. There was a small barrage of media coverage when the twins graduated high school. Her roommate knew Caitlin’s story before they’d even met. There’s always the question of when to tell new people, “Here’s something interesting about me. …”
“My sister and I said we didn’t understand what the big deal was,” she said. “For us, it’s normal, growing up this way. We do what normal 19-year-olds do. We look at it as a blessing. It’s an opportunity to give back.”
What she wants — what she and Emily both want — she said, is to give people a positive story, to glorify God.
“When my parents went through this, it was either circus act stories or failure stories,” she said.
And her parents gave up a lot. They adjusted their schedules. They committed to the costs of putting them in private schools.
And they decided against abortion, which was an option, given the chances for severe if not fatal complications for either or both of them.
“That’s one of my reasons for being pro-life,” she said. “We had the potential to be perfectly fine, and we are.”
They use the FaceTime app a lot to communicate, but Caitlin says the toughest part of easing into college was being away from Emily.
It’ll take more than surgery and a few hours’ drive to keep the two that were once one separated. It’s a bond few will know and one she will always cherish. And she has faith.
“God has a plan,” she said. “I still don’t know what it is for me, but God’s going to take care of you. There’s going to be huge speed bumps, but it’s going to turn out how it’s meant to be.”