These Twins Were Joined At The Head. But After Major Surgery They Returned Home Separately

Abby and Erin Delaney were connected at the head when they were born – the rarest kind of conjoined twins. However, despite the risks involved, their dedicated doctors decided the siblings needed to be separated.

Heather and Riley Delaney come from Mooresville, North Carolina. The couple had been friends from childhood and would never have thought they’d end up marrying in 2015. However, they did, and soon after they were ready to start a family.

Imagine the delight when Heather discovered she was pregnant in January 2016. However, the couple’s joy soon turned to worry. That’s because their first ultrasound scan revealed that, not only were they expecting twins, but their babies were conjoined.

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Reliving the moment she learned of her babies’ condition, in 2016 Heather wrote on her blog, “That is when my world was turned completely upside down. Something that went from 100 percent joy turned into almost 100 percent terror.”

Heather’s doctor referred her to a specialist. It was then that she and Riley presumably got a better idea of what their circumstances meant for their babies. Conjoined twins account for between 1 in 50,000 and 1 in 200,000 births. Of these, up to 50 percent of conjoined twins are stillborn. A further 33 percent survive for one day only.

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Subsequent scans revealed that the Delaney twins were joined by the head. Babies with this kind of connection are known as craniopagus conjoined twins. Accounting for between two and six percent of cases, they are extremely rare.

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Heather and Riley would have to wait until their babies were born to learn the full extent of their daughters’ condition. However, 16 weeks into their pregnancy, they got what Heather called a “ray of sunshine” when a scan revealed that both their girls each had their own brain.

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This meant that, in theory, it would be possible for surgeons to separate the Delaney twins. And to give them the best possible chance of survival, their parents decided that the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia could provide the twins with the expert care they required.

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Consequently, the Delaney twins were born at the hospital’s Special Delivery Unit in July 2016. The girls, Abby and Erin, arrived ten weeks early and weighed just two pounds and one ounce each. But despite their tiny size, the babies had a big fight ahead of them.

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Now that Abby and Erin had arrived, their surgeons, Dr. Gregory Heuer and Dr. Jesse Taylor, could get to work on their separation. However, the process would require months of planning and preparatory operations.

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One of the twins’ first procedures occurred in October 2016. That’s when surgeons cut into the bone joining the girls’ skulls and inserted a device that would push them apart. The innovative use of this technique succeeded in separating the skulls by at least two centimeters.

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Over the course of the next few months, Abby and Erin underwent a number of other operations. In one, they had tissue expanders inserted. These would stretch their skin until there was enough extra to cover the hole that would be left after separation.

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In June 2017, the twins were finally ready for their final separation surgery. That’s when an team of 30 medical experts gathered to complete the tricky 11-hour procedure. However, thankfully, Abby and Erin were in safe hands.

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Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia had carried out similar separation surgeries 23 other times – more than most hospitals in the world. However, they had never separated craniopagus conjoined twins as young as Abby and Erin, who were only 11 months old at the time.

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Explaining the rationale behind his team wanting to operate as early as possible, in October 2017 Dr. Taylor told WTXF, “We know that children heal better and faster the younger they are. Therefore our goal for Erin and Abby was separation as soon as possible with minimum number of surgeries.”

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Thankfully, Abby and Erin’s surgery went to plan. Following their operation, they went to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit before moving to a other wards to receive further therapy treatments. Experts from all kinds of medical fields closely monitored their progress to ensure that they not only recovered, but also thrived.

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A month after their separation, the girls celebrated their first birthday. And thanks to their amazing story, they received over 300 cards from well-wishers from all over the globe. However, Abby and Erin’s journey to recovery didn’t end there.

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As the twins grow older they will require further operations to replace missing areas of bone. They will also undergo procedures to fix their hairlines and reduce scarring. However, after spending  more than a year in hospital, their parents’ priority was to get their girls home to North Carolina.

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So, by February 2018 both girls were living with their parents in a brand new home. They will still have to travel to Philadelphia for check-ups every so often. But for the most part, they are free to get on with their recovery.

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Now, their parents are looking forward to watching Abby and Erin grow. “The girls are inspiring,” Heather told WTXF. “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. We cannot wait to see what their future holds!”

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