MOORESVILLE, NC (WBTV) - A local mother of twin girls who survived life-threatening surgery says her daughters are growing, developing and - most importantly - happy.
Erin and Abby Delaney were born as conjoined twins to Mooresville parents in July 2016. Doctors were able to successfully separate them when they were 10 months old. It was a very risky surgery that took a 30-member team 11 hours to perform.
“I can say they are really my heroes for what they’ve been through. Not many people can say that about their kids, but mine really are my inspiration. And I think to myself that if they can make it through what they made it through, then I can get through anything,” said their mother, Heather Delaney.
The girls are now 2 years old and are back in Mooresville. Both are growing and developing.
Heather says she found out her children were conjoined when she was about 11 weeks pregnant.
“When I first found out I was pregnant with the girls... I instantly went on the internet. Trying to find anyone who had been through something similar. Just trying to find any type of support, any doctors. Anything. I found a woman through a blog - she connected me to a Facebook group, that was all families of conjoined twins. Through that Facebook group I was able to contact families with twins like my own.”
She decided to have her daughters treated in Philadelphia because doctors in the Charlotte-area had not dealt with many cases of conjoined twins.
One of those doctors, Neurosurgeon Gregory Heuer, said the surgery involved a lot of prep-work.
“One of the different techniques we used in this case to help separate these twins was at an earlier time-point - around 3 months of age - we separated the bone that was connecting the two twins. And then we sort of slowly pushed them apart and changed the anatomy where the two were connected,” said Heuer. “That allowed us to do the separation at about 10 months of age.”
“Our doctors from the beginning were fairly optimistic,” Heather recalled. “They told us upfront that this is a life-threatening surgery. We could have lost one of them or both of them. That there was no guarantee in anything. Which is a hard pill to swallow when you’re talking about your unborn children.”
But Heather said her family trusted the doctors from the beginning.
"There was just a warmth about them and they made us feel like family. And they basically told us they were honored to be able to do this for us and our children, which really hit home for us."
She says the outpouring of support from the community hit home as well.
"People would send us. gifts and notes of encourages. They would send us all sorts of stuff. Toys for the girls, clothes for the girls. Diapers. It's been a godsend. It's amazing how many really nice people there are out there."
The girls spent 485 days in the hospital recovering. Surgeons and nutritionist will continue to monitor their progress for the next few years.
“After surgery it took the girls a little while to act like themselves again,” Heather said. “It took them probably two months or so before I could see glimpses of who they were before. But ever since then they are just growing and changing, and they’re just amazing little people.”
The mother described coming home for the first time with her daughters as “surreal.”
“It was something I had dreamed about for a year and half almost. So being able to walk into the home and put them in a crib and know they were sleeping right next to me was something I will never forget. It was really exciting to have them next door next morning, and be able to put them in the living room and drink my coffee and watch them roll around on the floor. For the first time in a long time, I felt kind of normal.”
Dr. Heuer says the girls are making significant strides not just because of the hospital staff, but also because of their loving parents.
“In part because these twins were so young, and in part because of the great care of the nursing and the hospital - and the parents - provided these kids, they’ve really made some significant strides over the past year plus,” Heuer said. “They’re now starting to crawl, starting to try to walk, say things to their parents. So each time we see them they’ve kind of made another jump forward in their development.”
Heather says going through the process was very difficult, but looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing because of how happy her girls are now.
“For any parent that might be going through a medical crisis with their children - I always like to tell them that the you never know, the impossible might be possible,” Heather said. “My girls are living proof of that. They are living miracles.”