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'The next step': Utah agency designs baby jumper for 9-month-old conjoined twins

SALT LAKE CITY — When Nick Torres learned his wife was carrying conjoined twins, one of the many earth-shattering realizations that swept over him was that buying basic necessities for his daughters — from clothing, to car seats, to toys — would become exponentially more complex.

"When we had the girls, we didn't think they'd have anything they could use," Torres said of now 9-month-old twins Callie and Carter, who share a single set of legs and their organs from the belly button downward. "You can't just walk into Walmart and buy something for your conjoined twins."

The girls also have a doting older brother, 4-year-old Jaysin, and yet the immense complexity of rearing conjoined twins is "kind of like being a new mom," Chelsea Torres said.

But the couple from Blackfoot, Idaho, has quickly become absorbed into a proactive, albeit small, network of parents who have also raised conjoined twins and know just what to do.

Earlier this year, the Torres got a tip from the Herrins, a North Salt Lake family who also gave birth to conjoined twin girls: Take full advantage of the free assistance offered by the Utah Center for Assistive Technology in helping the girls learn to stand and eventually walk.

On Monday, Callie and Carter tried out their first stint in a baby jumper made for two, created specifically for them over the course of several hours by the center's assistive technology specialist, Kevin Christensen.

Callie adapted to her new toy in stride, glancing around the room nonchalantly as she and her sister were carefully lowered in. Carter was less happy, and let her parents know it with her cries.

"Callie is really laid back. Carter is, if something is out of place, she gets upset. .... It's her way or no way," their mother explained fondly.

Both girls will learn to love their baby jumper in no time, Chelsea Torres said, and will have an easier time learning to walk because of the device.

"This is hopefully the next step in helping them balance and move with each other," she said. "They know how to crawl a little bit."

The device is the first to help the girls into a standing position with no assistance. Each girl controls one of their two combined legs, meaning starting to walk will be a team effort and learning to do it early is especially important, Chelsea Torres said.

"If we want them to move together, this is what we have to do," she said.

That early team effort by the two babies is expected to be a lifetime investment, since they're healthy enough that they're expected to remain conjoined throughout their lives barring future complications, according to their mother. The Torres have shared their daughters' story multiple times over social media, detailing how their strong health has repeatedly defied the odds since before they were born.

'Best job in the world'

There aren't any resources similar to the Utah Center for Assistive Technology in southern Idaho, according to the couple.

"Not a lot of places can provide something so unique," Chelsea Torres said.

If it were not for specialized help like the kind offered by the center, Nick Torres said, the family would be at a loss at how to help their girls into the walking stage.

"They brought this whole idea to life," Nick Torres said. "I'm excited to get the girls in it when they're not cranky."

Christensen, who spent about eight hours building the jumper, said he's excited about the possibilities it opens up for the girls, both for their development and enjoyment.

"Kids typically their age are pulling themselves up and standing," he said. "(The jumper) gets them in the upright playing posture. That gives them a whole different perspective and helps them learn and grow."

Christensen met with the Torres family in September to go over dimensions for a specialized jumper harness. Then he went to work sewing the canvas into the middle of a plywood platform coated with plastic surrounded by cushion material. That apparatus was then hung from a hook several feet above it, utilizing what Christensen called "climber-grade rope."

After the family arrived, Christensen scrutinized the device carefully while the girls were inside it, making sure they were comfortable, and made some small last-minute adjustments by adding padding around the harness.

"We want to make sure whatever leaves here today is comfortable for them," he said.

Nick Torres said he was pleasantly surprised that the device is big enough to be of use for his daughters for a long time.

"This should last quite a while," he said. "They're great people, they helped us out a lot. ... They went above and beyond."

Christensen said his work brings him a lot of satisfaction when he sees that his improvisations help meet a person's complex needs.

"It's an awesome feeling. I mean, I think I've got one of the best jobs in the world," he said.

Christensen and others at the center, which is under the umbrella of the Department of Workforce Services, work on numerous projects to help Utahns with disabilities gain more mobility, independence or an experience similar to that of their peers. That includes specialized wheelchairs, vehicles, and for children, even toy cars and trains.

The agency funds its projects with the help of philanthropic grants obtained by the Utah Assistive Technology Program, a nonprofit organization. Putting together the baby jumper for Callie and Carter cost about $400, but was provided to them free.