BETA

Surgical success

Doctors separate conjoined twins; family thankful for miraculous events

In the hours and days after marathon surgery to separate 4-year-old Latter-day Saint conjoined twins, Kendra and Maliyah Herrin, their family has witnessed "miracle after miracle after miracle."

"We know these miracles have come about through the fasting and prayers of countless members and countless strangers that we don't even know," said the twins' grandfather, Jeff Warren. "We have been so grateful."

Kendra Deene and Maliyah Mae Herrin, daughters of Jake and Erin Herrin of North Salt Lake, Utah, were born Feb. 26, 2002, at the University of Utah Medical Center. The Ischiopagus/Omphalopagus conjoined twins shared an abdomen, pelvis, liver, kidney, large intestine and two legs (each controlled one).

In landmark surgery, which lasted 26 hours and garnered international attention, Kendra and Maliyah were separated Aug. 7 — the first surgery of its kind performed on twins that shared a single kidney. During the surgery a team of "angel doctors" that included eight surgeons, two anesthesiologists, 14 operating room staff members, pharmacists and radiologists separated their bodies, liver and bladder, and reconstructed their divided pelvis. Each girl kept one leg and Kendra kept the kidney, which was in her body.

"It was like seeing them born again. They were in brand-new bodies. It was really an amazing experience," said Brother Herrin after the surgery.

"If you don't believe in miracles, I would hope that you could see the miracle in this," he later wrote on the family's Web site. "We have seen some things that leave no doubt that miracles exist today."

Conjoined twins make up about 1 in 50,000 to 100,000 births and happen when a fertilized egg starts to split, as with typical identical twins, but doesn't finish. Most of the time separation surgeries are done when the twins are 6 to 12 months old. But because the Herrin twins shared Kendra's kidney, the surgery was delayed. Sister Herrin will donate a kidney to Maliyah, who is currently on dialysis, in a few months.

According to their Web site, the Herrins have shared their story to help others understand more about conjoined twins and with the hope that Kendra and Maliyah will touch people's lives in some way. Brother Warren said there is no doubt the story has done just that.

After the successful separation, news spread worldwide. Interest in the story is an indication of the publics' desire — amid war and other devastating stories — to hear of the well-planned, uplifting procedure that brought new life to two little girls, said their grandfather.

In the first days after the surgery, the Herrin family — which also includes a 6-year old daughter and 1-year-old-twin sons — received more than 3,000 e-mails. The twins, their family told them, were now as famous as cartoon character Dora the Explorer.

"People are continuing to pray for us," Sister Herrin said in a press conference. "That means a lot to us, especially since we're not out of the woods yet."

Brother Warren said doctors warned the family that infection could set back the girls' progress. However, he added, the family has witnessed too many miracles in the process to doubt that God is in change. Doctors said the surgery, which included no major surprises and during which the girls required very little blood, went "really, really well."

"The experiences of the past few days have been so absolutely amazing it's almost hard to articulate," Brother Warren said. "It's been miracle after miracle after miracle, and the Lord's hand has been so obvious it's breathtaking."

In a press conference after the surgery, Brother Herrin said they were "hoping and praying for the best," explaining that they found strength to face the procedure by relying on Church teachings. "Who thinks the prayers are working? I do," he added.

Recovering in separate beds in the same room, the girls, as of press time, were eating Popsicles, playing with bubbles, laughing and holding hands.

Before the surgery, the family described the twins as healthy and happy little girls, each with her own distinct personality. They could scoot around, roll over, pull up to standing, and even do a summersault. Kendra enjoyed preschool, playing with her sisters, singing and saying hi to everyone she met. Maliyah loved to sing, play, ask questions and correct her family's grammar.

Now, in addition to all that, Sister Herrin said the girls have a broader future that she hopes will include attending the prom, getting married and raising families of their own. Still, the family says as they celebrate a new beginning for the twins, they are also mourning the way they were.

"We can't wait for them to talk and assure us that they are as happy as ever," Brother Herrin wrote on the family Web site. "They are our heroes. I don't know what else to say. We are just doing what any good parent who loves their children would do. Kendra and Maliyah are the true inspirations."

In the future, the Herrins say they will look at the possibility of the girls walking with a combination of crutches and a prosthetic leg each. Maliyah will continue dialysis until she is healthy enough to receive a transplant. Both girls will also likely have several reconstructive surgeries.

"We're up for it," Sister Herrin said of the girls' recovery and future. "We're always up for a good challenge."

E-mail to: [email protected]