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Conjoined twins’ miracle survival after they were born sharing chest and tummy
March 19, 2021
Parents of conjoined twins have opened up about their two-year journey to separation surgery – and how they miraculously survived.
Amelia and Sarabeth, 20 months old, were born in the US state of Michigan sewn together from their chests to their stomachs.
Mum, Alyson, 33, has described the last two years as 'a rollercoaster of shock, hope and love" as she is still in disbelief that her little girls have been successfully separated.
Rewind to February 2019 and it was a very different story.
The parents of the twin's older sister Kennedy, 2, were thrilled to be pregnant again.
Alyson and husband Phil, 32, had big plans on the way to their 20-weeks scan but had no idea of the news that was coming.
Alyson said: "She arrived and told us bluntly, 'You’re having conjoined twins. I’ve never seen this before. You’re going to have to decide what to do.' I went into shock. I just broke down and sobbed.
"All we felt was devastation. What were the chances our babies would live?"
The next day they met the team at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Alyson was thrust into a pregnancy a world apart from her first. Appointments every two weeks, with a team of neonatologists and surgeons. Every meeting also included the palliative care team.
Because, as their paediatric and fetal surgeon George B Mychaliska explains: "It’s very rare, only one in every 100,000 to 200,000 babies are conjoined in this way. Most are stillborn and of the few who survive, many die shortly after birth."
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At 25 weeks the couple learnt the girls didn’t share a heart, meaning they had a chance of being successfully separated.
"That was always our hope," says Alyson.
"We wanted to give our girls a chance to live separate lives if it was possible."
The plan was to get to 37 weeks, but at 33 weeks the doctors saw the blood flow slowing in the umbilical cord that the girls shared. It was time for them to be born.
A huge team was in the delivery room and, through an incision twice the normal size, Sarabeth and Amelia were born on June 11, 2019.
Alyson remembers: "I got to see them for a second before they were whisked away to the NICU, but the rush of love was incredible."
There followed 85 days of sharing the girls with a medical team. Scans confirmed separation would be possible, and the operation was scheduled for February 2020, five months later.
The girls had tissue expansion surgery, with balloons placed under their skin to allow the separation and reconstruction to take place.
"It was hard,” Alyson admits.
"The week before surgery the girls caught pneumonia, which was terrifying. Then Covid struck. Suddenly we had no idea when their operation would take place."
Finally, on August 5, 2020, the twins were prepped for surgery. Watching their little girls being wheeled into theatre, was a very hard moment.
Alyson said: "We decided to get comfortable in the car. We had a pager so the team could send us regular updates. It was amazing to read 'first incision' and 'the girls are officially separated'. We were sitting cheering in the car park!
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"The only frightening moment came when our phone rang. But it was just one of the team telling us how close they were to finishing reconstruction, and that the surgeon was making their belly buttons. It sounds crazy but that was one of the best moments for me."
Walking into the girls’ recovery room was surreal, she added.
"Seeing them in two beds, the farthest away they’d ever been from each other, was amazing. Looking at their little bellies had me in tears."