Sometimes being too close to the ones you love can be unhealthy — and that proved quite literally true in the case of Erin and Abby Delaney. Though these two little girls’ parents are North Carolina natives, the 15-month-old twins have spent almost all of their lives in Philadelphia.
“Why?” you may ask. Well, as Liftable reported earlier in the year, Erin and Abby are conjoined twins connected at the head, a super-rare one out of every 60,000 births.
Or perhaps I should say “were” conjoined twins. On June 6, 2017, the two were successfully separated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — and now they’re heading home.
Of course, the process wasn’t as simple as it sounds on paper. It started in October 2016 when doctors began with a preliminary procedure that cut through to the area where their skulls were fused and installed an implement that would slowly push the girls apart.
The process is called distraction. Every day, it introduced a millimeter or two of space between Erin and Abby.
That wasn’t the only step either. Additional surgeries introduced balloon-like expanders that further stretched their skin.
When the final surgery took place, it still required an agonizing 11 hours to complete. A trio of neurosurgeons worked hand-in-hand to separate Erin and Abby’s blood vessels, dura membrane, and even a small amount of shared brain tissue.
They then closed up the wounds around the girls’ skulls using artificial materials. At 8:43 p.m. on June 6, Erin and Abby began their truly separate lives at the tender age of 10 months.
“This is one of the earliest separations of craniopagus conjoined twins ever recorded,” said reconstructive surgeon Dr. Jesse Taylor in a statement. However, it would be a while before they got to experience anything except the environs of the Children’s Hospital.
A phalanx of specialists — including nutritionists, developmental pediatricians, and a host of entirely different surgeons — continued to work with Erin and Abby. Some of their tasks included encouraging the twins in developmental tasks such as sitting independently and basic movement.
The pair will need even more procedures down the years. Physicians will need to introduce bone to shore up their skulls, straighten out their hairlines, and repair any scarring.
“The doctors have a lot of hope for what the girls can do,” their mother, Heather Delaney, said. “But we won’t really know what kind of deficits they have until they’re about three. For now, they’re doing fantastic.”
“The ability to plan and carry out this type of surgery is testament to the skill and expertise available here at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” said Dr. N. Scott Adzick, the Surgeon-in-Chief at the hospital. “I’m extremely proud of Dr. Heuer, Dr. Taylor and the entire CHOP team, and I’m thrilled that Erin and Abby have a promising future because their courageous parents entrusted their daughters to our care.”
Sadly, not every case of conjoined twins ends so happily. Many, in fact, end in tears.
A pair of Mexican boys, who shared all major internal organs while still possessing individual heads and brains, passed away earlier in the year. Still, we can give thanks that Erin and Abby seem to have many happy years ahead of them.
“As their parents, it is very neat for Riley and me to have a front row seat to this and watch them overcome these incredible obstacles,” Heather said. “We cannot wait to see what their future holds!”
UPDATE, May 30, 2019: To see how Abby and Erin are doing, you can follow their journey on the Facebook page created by their mother, the Delaney Twins.
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