-- For the first time in their lives, 11-month-old twin girls Acen and Apio Akello are experiencing the world apart from one another. The girls, conjoined at the pelvis and hip area, were separated during a 16-hour surgery last week.
The girls are recovering today at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, as they will have to learn to crawl, sit up and even walk now that they're no longer conjoined. The marathon surgery involved at least 30 members of the hospital's medical staff and a delicate procedure to divide nerves between the two girls without causing lasting damage, doctors said.
Before their surgery, the girls’ mother Esther Akello said she was eager to see them after they were separated.
“I’ll be very happy to finally hold my babies in my arms and be able to fit them separately. It will be very exciting for me,” she said through a translator. The family is from Uganda.
Dr. Gail Besner, chief of pediatric surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, worked with at least 30 medical staff members during the operation and said they spent “several hundred hours” preparing for the surgery.
“I do find they always have different personalities,” Besner told ABC News of working with conjoined twins. “One is more submissive, one [Acen] is slightly smaller than the other and is a little more high strung.”
The girls first arrived in the hospital with their mother in December when they were given tissue expanders to help prepare them for surgery. Since their arrival, doctors prepped for the operation in multiple ways, including printing 3-D models of the girls’ internal organs and practicing operation techniques on two dolls sewn together.
Besner said the girls are doing well and out of the intensive care unit, but that they will need a lot more therapy before they leave.
“The girls will continue to receive treatment at this time, and I can’t wait to watch them grow,” Besner said in a statement. “My hope is that they will be able to sit up on their own, walk and play like any other child.”
In video released by the hospital, the doctors let out a small cheer as the girls were officially separated. Besner told ABC News that when she told the girls’ mother that they were doing well and full separated, she did a cheerful dance in celebration.
“The mothers have been waiting for months and months and they’re worried and there’s anticipation,” Besner said. “When you can tell them the babies are safely separated and doing well, it’s indescribable. This mother did an African dance for me and it was really, really precious.”