Parents of conjoined twins faced with difficult decisions: Part 1

Art and Aida Sandoval first had to decide to keep their babies, knowing they were conjoined, and then whether to risk a separation surgery after they were born.
8:24 | 10/13/17

Coming up in the next {{countdown}} {{countdownlbl}}

Coming up next:



Skip to this video now

Now Playing:


Related Extras
Related Videos
Video Transcript
Transcript for Parents of conjoined twins faced with difficult decisions: Part 1
Reporter: From the moment they were born, you couldn't see Eva Sandoval without seeing her sister Erika. Conjoined twins. They have never known life apart. Tonight we take you inside the complicated and risky surgery to separate them. Have we anticipated all the potential risks? Are we prepared to deal with a bad outcome? Reporter: These two little lives on the line. Was there ever a part of you that thought this might not work? The sandovals' journey begins in Sacramento, California, in the spring of 2014. With three children almost out of the house, 44-year-old Aida Sandoval and her husband of 25 years, art, were looking forward to becoming empty nesters. But little do they know they're about to receive some life-changing news. I was having pain. Then I told art about it. And he's like, go to the doctor, I think it's your ulcer. I said, I don't think it's my ulcer. Reporter: To her surprise, Aida finds out she's pregnant with not one but two babies. So what was your reaction? Whoa. Shocked. Shocked. Shocked, like okay -- He was pretty quiet. We're not kids anymore. Reporter: One month later, Aida's doctor recommends she sees a specialist. She assumed because of her advanced age. It felt an eternity by the time the doctor came in. He said, we do find some abnormalities. They are twins. And he goes, they are conjoined. Reporter: Conjoined twins are a rare phenomenon. Their chances of survival even rarer. About half are stillborn. Only 35% survive beyond the first day. I think when you're hit with some news like that -- he didn't know how to deal with it. I didn't know how to deal with it. You don't know who to turn to. Reporter: The sandovals went to Dr. Gary Hartman at Stanford Lucille Packard children's hospital. This is Erika's pelvis -- Reporter: An expert in the world of conjoined twins. But despite having six successful separation surgeries under his belt, he says every case presents itself own challenges. What did you say to them then? We were pretty blunt. What we told them was we didn't know that they could be separated. We weren't real optimistic about quality of life. Reporter: Doctors gave them the option of terminating the pregnancy. Did you ever have a moment where you thought, should we do this? I didn't. What was it that made you think, this is never an option to end this pregnancy? I feel it was my faith. We talked about it, like let's give them a chance. You know, if it's meant to be it's meant to be. Reporter: After 33 weeks of pregnancy, the sandovals welcomed two baby girls into the world. Erika rose and Eva Victoria. They are joined from the sternum all the way down to the pelvis, and they share a third leg. But they have two healthy hearts. You see them and they have tubes, they had the little covers over their eyes. They did ask us, you can't carry them, they're very fragile. You question yourself, are we doing the right thing? You talk to them, you say, you are strong. You're going to get through this. Reporter: Right from the start, they begin to defy the odds. But because they need specialized treatment, they must spend the first few months of their lives in the neonatal intensive care unit. When those beautiful girls were born, that family was very scared. Mom would stand over by the window with the bed many feet away, and we were just working with her to come over and to touch the girls and to know where she could put her hands in a place that wouldn't hurt them. Reporter: Finally, at 7 months old, the girls are deemed strong enough to go home to Sacramento. Despite Aida's 24 years as a mother, nothing could have prepared her for this. This is her feeding. So we're giving her 8 ounces what is she's getting, Erika. Reporter: Even the simplest of tasks like bath time, and putting on clothes, become an exercise in patience and creativity. So these were the little clothes that they wore. These were the little gowns that were made, trying to keep them dressed. Something cute is what I wanted to put on them. Velcro is a godsend, right? Right. Reporter: Like other kids they hit all their first milestones but they do so together. This is from their first words. Nana! Nana? Up! Up! Reporter: To learning how to stand. Very nice, I appreciate that. Reporter: Not wanting to leave their specialized care, they must make the nearly three-hour journey to Palo alto regularly for checkups. Even during those uncomfortable car rides. The girls remain upbeat. They begin to develop their own personalities. Eva, the talkative one. Erika, the observer. But Eva also becomes stronger and larger than her sister, off then drag, even throwing her around. Over time, their health starts to decline. What's been the most trying time? All the utis. They're throwing up, they're dehydrated. Eva. Sister stay, don't bounce. The month of July, we were in the hospital practically the whole month. Reporter: Erika kept getting weaker and weaker. She was just basically getting smaller. Eva was getting bigger. That was their point to say, we really have to do something about this. Reporter: With concern mounting, the family and doctors decide they need to separate the 2-year-old girls now. Were you able to explain to them at their age what was going to happen? I would always role play. When some magic's going to happen and Dr. Hartman is your magician. Reporter: Only 250 separation surgeries successfully performed in the world, doctors tell the sandovals there's a 30% chance one of the twins could die. Was there ever a part of you that thought this might not work? A very small part. Knowing the girls, how much -- what they've gone through, they're fighters. Reporter: It's finally the morning of the surgery. The twins are their usual bubbly selves. Ready to go now. Reporter: Two hours later, when they arrive at the hospital, reality sets in for the sandovals. They place their faith in god. And their babies in the hands of this team of specialists. The nearly 50-person medical team begins with a prayer for guidance. We will work together, a prayer for strength. Reporter: In a nearby room, the sandovals and dozens of family members join in. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. I felt a calmness come over me that it was going to be okay no matter what, what the outcome was. Reporter: After four hours of careful prep, it's now time to begin the separation. They've made the first incision. Reporter: The surgeons' plan is to separate the organs of the chest first, then move down to the abdomen and finish with the pelvis. They're hoping that the twins' shared leg can be given to Erika. As the hours pass, the doctors encounter a few surprises. Erika's small intestine joined Eva's small intestine just before the large intestine. Is that a problem? Actually, you can be fine with just small intestine. Reporter: Having overcome that challenge, they continue the delicate dance of dividing the girls' organs. They were able to give -- split the bladder, so they each have a bladder. Reporter: Every step a daunting task. One false move could spell disaster. The big challenge is then closing that wound. That's the real risky part. Reporter: When we come back, Aida and art are given difficult news. It's just like a punch in the gut. Reporter: The long hours of waiting and that moment that brought everyone to tears. When you're close to the people you love,

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

{"id":50454504,"title":"Parents of conjoined twins faced with difficult decisions: Part 1","duration":"8:24","description":"Art and Aida Sandoval first had to decide to keep their babies, knowing they were conjoined, and then whether to risk a separation surgery after they were born. ","url":"/Nightline/video/parents-conjoined-twins-faced-difficult-decisions-part-50454504","section":"Nightline","mediaType":"default"}