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Conjoined twins survived a rare surgery. Now they’re going home.

Jesse and Sandy Fuller check on their twin daughters before they were separated in a rare surgery. (Texas Children’s Hospital)
5 min

Watching her newborn daughters in separate hospital rooms for the first time, Sandy Fuller was in awe.

“They have a little separation anxiety from one another,” Fuller told a doctor.

When Eliza and Ella Fuller were born in March, they were conjoined at the stomach. Doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston spent months planning a rare surgery to separate the twins so they could live independently.

After a successful procedure last month, Eliza and Ella recovered in different rooms and learned to eat and sleep alone.

On Tuesday, the twins hit another milestone. After spending their first 133 days in the hospital, Eliza and Ella were discharged and brought to their Center, Tex., home, where doctors expect they will grow up healthy.

“I’m going to tell them that if they can make it through this, whatever life throws at them, without a doubt, they can handle it,” Fuller’s husband, Jesse, said in a video interview provided by the hospital. “There’s a way, and I think this is a good way of showing them, you know, sometimes the impossible is possible.”

Sandy said she was shocked when, 12 weeks into her pregnancy last fall, a doctor suspected after viewing ultrasounds that her twins were conjoined. One in about every 55,000 births produce conjoined twins, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But about 40 percent of conjoined twins are stillborn, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital, and roughly 35 percent of conjoined twins die within a day of their birth.

A doctor referred the Fullers to Texas Children’s Hospital, where medical teams have separated conjoined twins. Doctors there confirmed the Fuller babies were conjoined, but their future looked promising. Through X-rays and ultrasounds, doctors saw the twins possessed most of their own organs and only shared a liver, which could be divided without causing major health implications.

“There’s no guarantees,” Alice King, a pediatric surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital, told The Washington Post. “The fetal imaging gives us really, really a lot of great information to start the conversations.”

In February, the Fullers began staying at Texas Children’s Hospital, about three hours from their home, so King and 16 other doctors could prepare for the surgery.

Thirty-five weeks into her pregnancy, Sandy wore a green gown and sat in a bed as she awaited a Caesarean section on March 1.

“Are you really nervous?” she asked Jesse in a video provided by the hospital.

“Not yet,” Jesse responded. “I mean, I’m getting there.”

Eliza and Ella were born at 2:11 p.m. and each weighed about 5 pounds and 10 ounces. Sandy held the babies, wrapped in a blanket decorated with colorful ducks, on her lap as Jesse stood over her and rubbed the top of the twins’ heads.

Doctors soon took the babies to the neonatal intensive care unit for further treatment.

The medical team wanted Eliza and Ella to grow so they’d have enough tissue for the separation surgery. Feeding them was challenging because the babies faced each other, and their parents adjusted their positions since the twins couldn’t move themselves.

Meanwhile, doctors simulated the surgery using computer-generated scans of the babies.

Before the surgery June 14, Jesse and Sandy visited their babies in their crib, which featured two name tags. They were 15 weeks old.

“We ready?” Jesse asked the babies. “We think we are? We don’t know?”

“They’re so happy,” Sandy added as she watched them smile.

Before doctors rolled Eliza and Ella into the operating room, Jesse and Sandy kissed both their heads.

“You’re going to do great,” Sandy told them.

As the roughly six-hour procedure began, Sandy, Jesse and family members held hands in the waiting room, dropped their heads and prayed.

Meanwhile, doctors put Eliza and Ella to sleep and divided their liver while avoiding other organs. They cheered when the twins were separated.

King visited the family in the waiting room.

“Everything has gone very, very smoothly,” King told them before Jesse and Sandy stood to hug her.

Plastic surgeons sewed the twins’ bellies up. Jesse and Sandy were in disbelief when they saw Eliza.

“It’s hard to process it,” Jesse told doctors. “We’re so used to seeing them [together].”

Jesse and Sandy held hands as they walked with doctors, who rolled Eliza’s crib to the NICU. Ella was brought to a separate room minutes later. Jesse and Sandy stood over their cribs and rubbed their daughters’ bellies and toes.

“It really makes many hours of planning and thinking about how to do this safely 100 percent worth it,” King told The Post.

Three days later, Sandy cried when she held her babies by herself for the first time since their surgery.

In the following weeks, Jesse and Sandy said they observed that Eliza is laid back, while Ella is sassy. They identified a spot on Ella’s ear to tell the twins apart.

The babies left the hospital with feeding tubes on Tuesday, but their parents hope those will be removed in the next few weeks.

“I’m kind of bracing myself,” Jesse said in the hospital interview, “because I know it’s going to be a wild house pretty soon.”