Doctors at the University of Michigan separated one-year-old twin sisters – born hugging – just 14 months after they were born.
Sarabeth and Amelia Irwin of Petersburg, Michigan each had their own arms, legs, and hearts, but their livers were connected, said the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital on Friday.
The nearly 11-hour operation to separate the identical twins was performed in August about 14 months after they were born. You are at home now.
The surgery was originally scheduled for February, but the twins developed pneumonia, then the coronavirus pandemic.
One-year-old twins Sarabeth and Amelia are pictured with their parents Alyson and Phil Irwin after their operation in August between the two children
The twins are pictured while they were in Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital before their surgery was performed that day
More than two dozen doctors, nurses, and specialists were involved in the twin operation. Here is a scene from the operating room that day
"It was a very emotional and extraordinary moment for everyone in the room when the final cut was made to separate these girls from one to two," said Dr. George Mychaliska, who led the operating team at Mott.
"I'm a father of twins and I know that twins are very close," Mychaliska said. "Sarabeth and Amelia will always share a truly unique bond, and I think the future is bright for both of them."
The parents, Alyson, 33, and Phil Irwin, found out about the conjoined twins during a pregnancy ultrasound in 2019, four months before the birth by caesarean section.
The couple had agreed that they would wait until birth to find out the gender of their baby, and convinced Alyson that by her 20-week ultrasound she would have a "big old boy".
Alyson said the pregnancy felt different than the one she had with her now three-year-old daughter Kennedy, so she assumed they were having a boy – and even prepared for it by buying baby items.
It was a shock when the ultrasound revealed conjoined twins.
"It felt like the worst news you could get, you know?" Alyson told the Detroit Free Press. "Mainly because the statistics are not good."
She added that her prenatal team had never seen anything like it. So they said their hearts would break for us … but there was nothing they could do. & # 39;
The twins Sarabeth and Amelia (pictured) were born and hugged. They had their own arms, legs, and internal organs, but they shared a liver
Alyson and Phil Irwin (pictured with the twins and their toddler Kennedy) didn't know they were expecting twins – let alone married, until their 20-week ultrasound
Pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr. Richard Ohye (right) talks to Alyson (center) and Phil (left) Irwin while twins Sarabeth and Amelia Irwin await their surgery on August 5th
The Irwins were then referred to a high-risk obstetrician, leading to their meeting with Michigan Medicine's Fetal Diagnostic and Treatment Center director Dr. Marcie Treadwell, and the news led that the twins had their own arms and legs, but the chest and stomach were brought together.
Prenatal imaging showed that the girls all had separate organs but shared a liver.
Mott & # 39; s Mychaliska said he said Irwin's separation of the twins would take a lot of planning and evaluation.
Although he said he "didn't want to be overly optimistic because this was going to be a really long journey for us," he recalled being "very hopeful with the family that it is something that is certainly possible."
To explain what the twins would look like to older sister Kennedy, the doctors gave the toddler two dolls that were sewn together in the middle, just as the twins were bandaged.
As a result, Kennedy "got it before we had her, and then it wasn't a big deal to her at all," said Alyson.
Doctors found that after 34 weeks, the babies showed signs of stress due to a blood flow disorder in the umbilical cord they shared, which resulted in a caesarean section before the planned gestation period of 35 and 36 weeks.
The surgery (pictured) lasted almost 11 hours and included giving artificial breastbones, Gore-Tex patches for her pericardium, and creating new belly buttons
On June 11, 2019, when doctors lifted the twins from Alyson's womb, the two girls – each weighing 4.5 pounds – had their arms wrapped around each other.
The Irwins knew the girls might not survive long enough for surgery, but they did.
I remember they put the girls on my chest for a moment. It was very cute and special to be able to hold and see her for the first time, ”Alyson told the paper.
The operation to split the twins was scheduled for February, but the girls developed pneumonia and then the coronavirus pandemic ensued.
The operation was canceled and the twins were sent home for isolation on March 17, just before Michigan's quarantine order was issued.
The surgery has been postponed to August 5 so the twins can continue to use tissue expanders to create enough skin to cover the areas where they would be separated.
The operation began at 11:19 a.m., and at 1:11 p.m. the twins were separated and moved to opposite ends of the operating table so the surgeons could begin reconstructing their chest and abdomen.
More than two dozen doctors, nurses and specialists were involved in the procedures.
Among the things that had to be created for the girls were artificial breastbones – they had shared one – made of titanium rods and Gore-Tex plasters to replace holes in their pericardium that they had also split. They also made a navel for each of them.
Alyson and Phil were banned from the hospital due to coronavirus restrictions and spent nearly 11 hours of surgery waiting in their car in front of the building.
Sarabeth came home in late August, followed by Amelia on September 5th.
Although the girls may need future surgeries as their bodies develop and are currently in need of physical therapy and occupational therapy, doctors are optimistic that they will grow up like children who were not born the way they were.
"This was a huge experiment in the power of positive and the power of prayer," said Phil. "You know, such positive news, people need this. People live on it. & # 39;
The twin girls are the first twins known to be successfully separated in Michigan.
Only 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 250,000 pregnancies are said to result in conjoined twins.
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