Two Lives, One Kidney

Aug. 11, 2006 -- -- A medical drama unfolded successfully as a team of surgeons completed a marathon 26-hour operation to separate 4-year-old conjoined twins, Kendra and Maliyah Herrin.

Watch Deborah Roberts' full report on "20/20" tonight at 10.

The surgery was particularly delicate because Kendra and Maliyah shared their entire lower body -- including a single kidney, one large intestine and two legs.

They're also older than many other conjoined twins who have been separated, and at their age, they were aware of what the operation meant.

During the surgery, 11 doctors and an army of nurses and technicians worked to separate the girls.

Each child now has one leg. In time, doctors will fit each twin with a prosthetic leg, making it easier for them to stand and walk.

Kendra received the twins' single kidney. Maliyah will need dialysis for several months as her body heals from the surgery, but then her mother, Erin Herrin, hopes to donate one of her kidneys to her daughter.

"I'd donate both my kidneys if that meant she would be able to live a healthy normal life for the rest of her life," said the girls' mother. "I'd do anything for my children. I think most mothers would."

The fact that they share a single kidney is why doctors waited so long to separate the twins.

"Very young children and infants do not do well on dialysis. And so the doctors wanted them to be a little bit older and a little bit bigger so that she would be able to tolerate that," said Bonnie Midget at Primary Children's Medical Center, where the surgery took place.

Separated, But Still Close

Because the twins are older and able to express themselves, a psychologist has been working with the girls to prepare them for their new life apart.

Before the surgery, Kendra and Maliyah asked their parents if they could be conjoined again when they wanted to. Their mother has saved their clothes for them to play in if they miss the close touch they once had.

They are recuperating now. Both girls will face years of additional surgery and rehabilitation. The pain medication that numbs the huge incisions will also keep them blissfully asleep for several days longer.

When they finally awake they'll see their beds side by side, so close, they could almost touch -- conjoined no longer but with the bond of love still tugging at them.