Five months ago 15-month-old twins Abby and Erin Delaney could not do half of what they are capable of now. That’s because until June 6, 2017, they were joined at the head.
The twins’ parents, Heather and Riley Delaney, learned during Heather’s first trimester that there was a possibility her babies were conjoined. The couple, who call Mooresville, North Carolina home, knew they were in for a difficult journey, but had faith in their support system of family, friends, and doctors.
When Abby and Erin were born they each weighed just over two pounds.
On July 24, 2016 Abby and Erin Delaney were born prematurely at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Heather wrote on her blog she’s kept to update family and friends that her two little girls were “pretty as ever” and experienced no breathing problems at all. Although they were, relatively speaking, healthy, the twins still had a long journey ahead of them.
As the weeks went on Abby and Erin improved and doctors at the hospital also started preparing the twins, as well as Heather and Riley, for separation surgery.
The twins have already overcome much more than most ever will in their lifetime.
A few months after the twins were born, doctors at CHOP operated on the little girls as the first step towards their eventual separation. A device was placed inside of their conjoined heads. The function of the device was to gradually push the twins apart. In the end doctors were able to push the twins two centimeters apart.
Abby and Erin underwent several other procedures, including the placement of tissue expanders, which helped to expand their skin. The excess skin would be used to cover the gap left after their separation surgery.
For months the twins prepared for their big day.
When they were just a few weeks shy of their first birthday the twins had life-changing surgery.
On the day of the surgery, which Heather dubbed Abby and Erin’s independence day on her blog, Heather was “excited, nervous, terrified, relieved, worried, stressed, tired, overjoyed, overwhelmed, and curious.”
Going into the surgery the Delaneys were told that the surgeons would separate the blood vessels the girls shared and then in a few weeks they’d operate again and separate the twins. But after several hours the surgery had gone so well the doctors wanted to proceed and continue with the separation operation.
“In that moment we were flooded with emotions,” Heather wrote on her blog. “This went from a fairly straight forward surgery to a very complicated one in a matter of minutes. This was no longer something that I was fully prepared for.”
After 11 very long hours, a surgeon informed the Delaneys that their girls had been separated.
After a day full of a roller coaster of emotions, the couple received the news they had anticipated for a very long time. Their girls were finally separated. Although it wasn’t all good news. While Abby and Erin were separated, Abby had lost a lot of blood during the surgery and both of their brains swelled. Doctors wanted to keep the girls in medically induced comas for a time, but still, they were separated.
We were told we had a little bit of time before they were actually out of the OR so we ran some stuff up to the girls new home the PICU while we waited. Seeing the room all set up for two beds brought me right to tears. Hearing the nurses say that they were going to be Erin or Abby’s nurse was such a surreal moment. They were separate. They were their own person. It wasn’t Erin and Abby anymore, it was Erin on that side of the room as her own patient, and Abby on this side of the room as her own patient. The realization of what had happened hit me like a brick wall.
Following their surgery both girls continued to improve and grow.
Heather wrote that the first few weeks following their separation was “filled with many terrifying moments.” However, those weeks full of uncertainty were followed by a joyous moment, Abby and Erin’s first birthday.
The twins celebrated their first birthday at CHOP.
After their first birthday it was only a short time until Erin moved to rehab where she spent several hours a day working with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and a speech therapist. Abby followed shortly after.
We have seen the girls change right before our very eyes. Every day they are doing new and exciting things. Watching their eyes light up as they relearn a skill or learn a brand new skill. Watching them sit up to play with toys, learning to roll over to their belly and lift their head up. It has been so amazing. Its watching a miracle unfold right in front of your eyes.
Now both girls are able to hold their heads up, roll from their backs to their stomachs, reach for and play with toys, among other milestones.
Until recently the twins knew no other life than a life at a hospital. They both spent over a year living at CHOP, receiving surgery after surgery, as well as intensive therapy to help them stay on track by hitting important milestones.
They still have a long way to go in terms of recovery, but now with Erin out of the hospital after a 435-day stay, the Delaneys are extremely hopeful their family, all four of them, will be able to return home to North Carolina by Thanksgiving.