Surgeons spent an intense 11 hours separating 10-month-old conjoined twins in a historic operation. Sisters Erin and Abby Delaney, joined at the head, are now able to lie side by side.
A team of about 30 professional doctors made the impossible happen: they carried out a delicate surgery separating conjoined twins. After last week’s successful operation, the babies are now recovering in the intensive care unit, though doctors say additional surgeries will likely be needed.
The delicate surgery was carefully orchestrated with half of the 30-member team of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff assigned to Erin, and the other half to Abby, according to CBS News.
The historic surgery took place at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and marked the hospital’s 23rd successful surgery separating conjoined twins over the past six decades.
Though it was the first time the team of doctors had to separate twins joined at the top of their heads, a condition called craniopagus – the most uncommon type of conjoined twins.
While more common types of conjoined twins include babies joined at the chest, abdomen, or pelvis, the phenomenon of conjoined twins occurs when an embryo only partially separates to form two independent babies. It also often happens that conjoined twins share one or more internal organs.
While separating conjoined twins is “a very complex surgery” that has to be followed by “a long and complicated recovery,” as said in a news release by plastic surgeon Dr. Jesse Taylor, who led the 11-hour operation along with neurosurgeon Dr. Gregory Heuer, the team of doctors and the parents are “very hopeful for a positive outcome.”
The twins’ mother, Heather Delaney, gave birth to the conjoined twins last July – 10 weeks prematurely – by cesarean section. Heather and husband Riley learned they were expecting conjoined twins about 11 weeks into the pregnancy, which allowed them to prepare for the historic surgery months ahead.
On her 26th week into the pregnancy, Heather stayed at the hospital permanently until the conjoined twins’ birth. Heather gave birth to Erin and Abby on July 24, 2016, and each baby weighed two pounds and one ounce.
The team of professional doctors, from specialties such as neurosurgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and anesthesiology, had months to come up with a comprehensive plan to carry out a successful separation surgery both before and after the twins’ birth.
During the intensely delicate surgery, surgeons had to carefully separate the conjoined twins’ blood vessels and protective membrane around their brains so that Erin and Abby could live independently.
The most difficult part of the separation surgery was to separate the sagittal sinus, a large vein at the top of the head that transfers blood from the brain toward the heart.
The team of doctors had to be divided into two groups, with each group focused on either Erin or Abby to perform the reconstruction. Each team had to monitor the conjoined twins’ vital signs using green and purple tape, one color assigned to each sister, to track their separate progress.
Erin and Abby are now able to lie side by side in their separate beds for the first time in their lives. The sisters have to go through a long recovery period and additional surgery will likely be performed on the girls.
The parents, Heather and Riley, cannot contain their excitement about going home and throwing a big party after the conjoined twins will have fully recovered. Heather said in a statement released by the Philadelphia hospital that they are planning quite a few parties for Erin and Abby.
“Welcome home, baby shower, first birthday.”
Erin and Abby could return home as early as later this year, as they need more time to recover and possibly undergo additional surgeries.
[Featured Image by Elena Yakusheva/Shutterstock]