In 2001 Lexi and Sydney Stark were born conjoined – yet no one could tell at the time if they would survive. In fact, the numbers suggested that one or both of them would be lucky to live lives free of complications. But now, 16 years on, the pair have defied all those odds. And the teenagers have also opened up about their unique connection.
In November 2000 Emily and James Stark were no doubt delighted to discover that they were expecting a baby. Yet Emily had a strange feeling about her pregnancy. In fact, she says, she had a premonition that she was expecting twins. And an ultrasound soon confirmed that she was right.
But the expectant mom apparently had another hunch: she thought her two babies were conjoined. She hoped, however, that this particular prediction would never come true. So, at her next scan, she probably wished that her motherly instincts were off on this occasion.
Emily and James therefore likely waited with bated breath for their ultrasound technician’s evaluation. And what he said will live with them forever. “I remember Dr. McDuffie going over and over one section of my stomach. [He] turned everything off, and he said, ‘They’re joined.’ And I checked out,” Emily recalled in an interview with Denver7 in November 2017.
The devastated parents later started researching conjoined twins. And soon they began to worry about what the future had in store for them and their children. “Everything we came up with was sideshow freaks, all negative. It was really disheartening, and these are your kids, [so] you get nothing positive out of that,” James revealed.
However, Emily and James found some hope to cling to. It turned out that their twins were connected at the bottom of their spines, so they each had a full set of internal organs. And, as a result, they each had a greater chance of surviving separation.
Conjoined twin births are very rare, of course, and actually account for just one in every 200,000 live births. And their chances of survival are even more slim. In fact, reports state that over a third of conjoined twins are stillborn, and roughly a third of those born alive will only survive one day. On the whole, then, the likelihood of conjoined twins living beyond this reportedly lies between 5 and 25 percent.
So when Emily and James welcomed their twins in March 2001, doctors delivered the girls, Lexi and Sydney, via cesarean section. Yet this was only the start of their journey. Seven months after the birth, you see, the new parents gave the go-ahead for the twins to have their sixth surgery – which would lead to separation.
But such a procedure carries a multitude of risks. And in Lexi and Sydney’s case, the doctors’ main concern was paralysis. Surgeons would, after all, need to carefully separate each girl’s nerves in the shared base of their spines. So if they couldn’t do this, there was a chance that the girls would never be able to walk.
Emily and James nevertheless felt that separation was the only choice that they had to give their daughters lives worth living. “We could keep them forever, or we can try to make their lives better with the potential that we may not be bringing them home,” Emily told CBS News in 2001.
Thankfully, the twins’ 15-and-a-half-hour surgery was a complete success. “It’s like God had a dotted line on where to cut them apart,” Emily said. “They were not mixed up. You knew exactly that was Lexi’s body and this was Sydney’s body. And every hour, we just got better and better news.”
Consequently, in October 2001, Lexi and Sydney hit the headlines. They were in fact the first successfully separated conjoined twins in the state of Colorado. But once the attention around them had died down, the girls could hopefully go on to lead completely normal lives.
And left to get on with their development, Lexi and Sydney seemingly went from strength to strength. “Every time we turned around we had hope. We had 100 percent hope… that they would be potty trained, that they’d be running and playing hockey, and that’s what kept us moving forward,” Emily told Denver7.
Yet when the girls hit their teenage years, it became clear that the pair had two very different characters. Lexi developed a keen interest in cookery and baking, for instance, and Sydney enjoys tinkling the ivories.
So, 16 years on from their separation surgery, it’s probably impossible to tell that Lexi and Sydney were ever conjoined. They are both regular, lively high school students, for one thing. And both teenagers have a passion for sport too. Mind you, Lexi prefers hockey, while Sydney is a rugby whiz.
Both girls have recently received their drivers’ licenses as well. But apparently they have different styles when it comes to hitting the road. In fact, according to their mom, Lexi is a speed queen while Sydney takes things a bit more slowly.
Yet despite their individual quirks, Lexi and Sydney claim that they share a special twin bond. “We do know when the other is hurt or in an uncomfortable position,” Lexi revealed. “It’s like twin to the rescue. That’s exactly what it is, and we don’t even have to think about it.”
And even more amazingly, the twins often find themselves sitting or standing by each other in the same position in which they were conjoined. “We were connected at the lower body. Our spines made a U… So it’s natural for us to go on the same sides where we were connected,” Lexi explained.
The future continues to look bright for the 16-year-olds too. They are, after all, both looking into colleges. They’re not concerned about being close to each other, though, and are even eying up universities as far away as the United Kingdom and Canada.
And seeing their daughters thrive probably confirms to Emily and James that they did the right thing by having the twins separated. Lexi and Sydney now actually have the freedom – including from each other – to live their lives in exactly the ways they wish.