Rare conjoined twins who defied the odds of survival have reached a significant milestone in their lives as they graduate from kindergarten. Heather Delaney, 33, from Statesville, North Carolina, received news at just 11 weeks into her pregnancy that she was carrying conjoined twin girls. The chances of having craniopagus twins, who are connected at the head, were estimated at one in 2.5 million. Despite the low chances of survival, the twins, Abby and Erin, were born via cesarean section at 30 weeks, weighing a combined 6 pounds.
Their parents, Heather and Riley Delaney, were overjoyed, even though their daughters had to remain in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), 10 hours away from their home. In June 2017, Abby and Erin underwent an unprecedented surgical procedure to separate their skulls. The 11-hour-long operation was successful, even though it carried significant risks. Although both girls experience developmental difficulties, they are flourishing as they approach their seventh birthday.
Heather Delaney expressed her disbelief at how fortunate they are, despite their disabilities. Graduation day felt like a dream come true for the proud parents, who never imagined their daughters would reach this milestone. Looking forward, they believe there are no limits to what Abby and Erin can achieve. Although the girls do not remember being conjoined, they see photos in their home documenting their journey. The Delaneys plan to have a conversation with them one day about their unique experience, hoping to instill in them a sense of pride and appreciation for how far they have come.
Years ago, when they first discovered they were having conjoined twins, Heather and Riley Delaney were overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty. Their daughters’ condition made them candidates for separation surgery after birth. The couple had a difficult time adjusting to the reality that these kinds of situations actually happen to ordinary people. Abby and Erin shared part of their skull, skin, and a critical vessel that carries blood away from the brain. They spent their early days in the NICU, anticipating their separation surgery that took place in June 2017. The operation marked the first of its kind at the hospital due to the rarity of the girls’ condition. It carried risks, including mild brain damage and death. Prior to the surgery, the girls underwent minor procedures to prepare them.
During the surgery, the worried parents could only pray as the surgeons worked tirelessly for 11 hours. It was a tense situation, and Abby experienced significant blood loss during the procedure. The Delaneys recalled that Abby lost 10 to 15 times her blood volume, and the surgeons had never before given that much blood to a patient. The surgery was particularly challenging because of the difficulty in stopping Abby’s bleeding after her sagittal sinus was clipped to separate her from Erin. Despite these challenges, both girls survived the surgery.
Following the procedure, Abby and Erin required further monitoring and stabilization in the hospital. Abby faced additional complications, including seizures, which necessitated medication and support. The couple remembers the sleepless nights and the relief they felt when everything settled down after 48 hours. It took five months before both children could finally leave the hospital and return home to Statesville. Despite their intellectual disabilities, Abby and Erin continue to make progress. They are currently at the developmental level of a 15-month-old and are non-verbal. While Erin has been walking since she was five, Abby is also starting to walk. They attend mainstream school but receive specialized support in a special class. The girls’ parents are proud of their achievements, which were unimaginable when they were babies.
During their graduation ceremony from kindergarten, Erin received a “dolphin award” for her adventurous spirit and love for exploration. Abby received the “deer award” for her kind and gentle treatment of others. Heather Delaney expressed pride in her daughters’ accomplishments. She reflected on the fear that consumed them before the separation surgery, as few successful cases had been reported worldwide. However, she emphasized the importance of sharing their story to provide hope to other parents facing similar pregnancies. The Delaneys want to show that separation is possible, and children can lead healthy and fulfilling lives.