Twins are considered to be incredibly close but, one set of Iowa-based twins born in late 2002 shared more than most – they were conjoined. Along with the complications that being literally connected with a sibling can bring, these twins and their triplet sister were abandoned by their mom. Yet, remarkably, thanks to the love of an adoptive family, they have grown up to be physically and mentally healthy and happy.
Every potential parent has worries and concerns during a pregnancy. Fathers can be anxious about providing for both their partner and child and keeping them safe. Mothers often fret about these things and almost everything else. Ultimately, however, the main concern is whether their child will be born healthy. But for one pregnant California woman in December 2002, these worries and concerns were tripled.
And going through the physical act of child birth of any kind is highly stressful. But in this expectant woman’s case, not only was the mother about to give birth to conjoined twins but a third healthy triplet was also on the way. And three was perhaps a crowd as far as this poor woman was concerned. Although it is not certain, maybe the stress was all to much. Whatever the case, heartbreakingly, the triplets were given up shortly after their birth.
Nonetheless, the fact that they were delivered successfully at all was against the odds. The death rates for triplets in the womb is ten times that of a single baby. Furthermore, the survival rate for conjoined twins ranges from a mere five percent to just one quarter of all births. However, conjoined twins are extremely rare and the condition is only found in roughly one in 200,000 births. That said, the woman going into labor in a Californian delivery room that December clearly had a lot on her mind.
So conjoined twins Macey and Mackenzie and their sister Madeline did not have the ideal start to life when they emerged weighing a scant two pounds, two ounces each. Their unfortunate mother had a history of drug addiction and was unable to look after them. Thankfully, however, foster parents Darla and Jeff Garrison were waiting in the wings.
And the now 47-year-old homemaker Darla and her 57-year-old construction worker husband Jeff were a safe pair of hands. Not only did the California couple have three boys of their own, the Garrisons had previously fostered ten other kids. Speaking to U.K. women’s magazine Closer in 2011, Darla explained, “We had no idea what to expect – they just needed someone to love them. We had Madeline when she was four days old and Macey and Mackenzie came to us at four weeks old.”
Once the three girls had been fostered out, it was time for the medical authorities to think about the next steps. It was only weeks after the birth that doctors decided to begin making the necessary preparations for little Macey and Mackenzie to be surgically separated. The twins were joined at the hip and shared a nonfunctioning leg, some intestines and a colostomy bag. Sadly, they also had something else in common – a great deal of pain.
With this in mind, life must have been hard for their foster parents, who also had Madeline and three young boys to cope with. To add to Darla and Jeff’s worries, there was more discomfort in store for the infant Macey and Mackenzie. The surgery to separate the twins necessitated the use of tissue expanders placed into the front and back of their torsos.
So, despite the obvious trepidation, it must have come as a relief to all concerned when the date of the procedure rolled around in September 2003. A 24-hour operation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles saw pediatric surgeon James Stein and his team painstakingly separate the nine-month-old conjoined twins. Not only that, but the surgeons used Macey and Mackenzie’s shared leg to build upon their reproductive organs. The plan was to give the girls the opportunity of having kids of their own one day.
Amazingly, considering the risks involved, the operation was a success. The fact that they now only had one leg each notwithstanding, Macey and Mackenzie had pulled through. The Garrisons must have loved being able to exhale. As Darla told Closer, “The operation was so long, and they were so tiny, there was a danger they’d die on the operating table.” Happily, Mackenzie was allowed to go home to her foster family after just six weeks of recovery. A month later, Macey was allowed to do the same – in plenty of time for Christmas. But there was to be another development in the new year…
When the triplets reached the age of 18 months in 2004, the Garrisons decided to take their love for them one step further and began adoption proceedings. The three girls would even things out with their trio of biologically born boys, Tyler, who was then 11, Matthew, eight, and Luke, seven.
And two years on from the success of the surgery, Darla and Jeff legally adopted the three girls. The Garrisons were now officially an eight-strong family unit. Speaking to Closer, Darla recalled, “We’d fallen in love with them. Our boys were so happy to have three sisters.”
Nevertheless, life did not stand still for the Garrison gang. Darla and Jeff had decided to give their six kids something that they had enjoyed growing up – a rural childhood. So the family made the move from California to a farmstead near Indianola in Iowa. The boys and the triplets thrived in their new country home as Macey and Mackenzie got used to life growing up with only one leg.
Indeed, it is amazing sometimes how well kids can adapt. Linda Kontis, co-founder of the agency that linked the triplets with their new parents, spoke to People magazine in 2013 about the twins’ progress. She said, “When you raise children who are handicapped in any way, when they’re surrounded by people who treat them like regular kids, that becomes how they see themselves.”
And Kontis also noted that the Garrisons as a whole played a vital role in helping Macey and Mackenzie and Madeline to develop happily. The foster care provider said: “It wasn’t just Darla and Jeff, they took in these girls as a family unit. And that’s why they re fabulous kids today.”
In fact, when the girls were about seven years of age, Madeline told her adoptive Mother that she too would like only one leg. Perhaps this was due to the amount of attention her sisters received. Nonetheless, Madeline has since discovered a love of horse riding and has been described by Darla as a “wonderful teacher,” helping Macey and Mackenzie to ride.
And the twins were also being taught other things. Fitted with prosthetics, the girls went to physiotherapy classes to prepare for their use. As far as a wider education went, the triplets all attended the same local school. They ignored any initial rude remarks from the other kids, and instead focused on their passions – games and art. In addition, Darla was also tempted back to school. Partly due to her experiences with the twins, she decided to enroll on a physical therapy degree course.
As Macey and Mackenzie grew, they received more and more physiotherapy to assist them in walking with their prosthetic legs. Despite having to use crutches, they both adapted to the task quite easily. However, at the age of ten, they were having to change protheses three times in a year due to their rate of growth.
That was when People caught up with the Garrison girls’ story. Darla told the magazine, “We’re not to the point yet where they can just go out and about with their prosthetic legs. It’s a balance issue, you have to train and train, and that’s what we’re doing with them at school.”
But if there was one thing the twins did not lack it was the ability to adapt. Indeed, they have happily made the most of things ever since their difficult beginnings. It is amazing, considering everything life has thrown at them and their triplet, that they have all grown up happy. Macey and Mackenzie and Madeline are now 16 and their social media pages are awash with smiling selfies.