Like abounding toddlers, Eva and Erika Sandoval spent their third altogether affair arena with accompany and family, bedlam and bistro block -- a Princess Sofia block from the Disney TV series, “Sophia the First,” for Eva and a Woody from “Toy Story” block for Erika.
The accompanying girls anniversary had their own affair apparel -- Eva was dressed as Princess Sophia, Erika was dressed as Woody.
But for their parents, Aida and Art Sandoval, this was added than aloof their daughters’ birthday. It was a miracle.
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This was the aboriginal altogether the twins, who were built-in accessory and who had spent best of their adolescent lives in a hospital, had acclaimed as abstracted individuals. Doctors weren’t assertive they would accomplish it this far.
When then-44-year-old Aida Sandoval begin out she was abundant three years ago with twins, she and her bedmate were afraid but “so excited.” But as they started to plan to add two added to their ancestors of five, the brace accustomed adverse news. Her doctor referred her to a specialist who told her that the twins were accessory and may not survive.
“[The doctor] asked me to alarm Art,” Aida said. “And I couldn’t. Like, how do I acquaint him? … So the doctor had to alarm him.”
Conjoined twins are a attenuate phenomenon, and their affairs of adaptation are alike rarer. About bisected are stillborn and alone 35 percent survive above their aboriginal day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The Sandovals, who animate alfresco of Sacramento, accomplished out to Dr. Gary Hartman at Lucile Packard Stanford Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California, an able in the apple of accessory twins and who had six acknowledged break surgeries beneath his belt. Aback Dr. Hartman advised the Sandovals’ case, he said he was honest with the brace about the twins’ affairs of survival.
“What we told them was [what] we anticipation [which was] we didn’t apperceive that they could be separated,” he said. “We said, ‘You would charge to accept … that they would never walk’ … We weren’t absolute optimistic about affection of life.”
Doctors gave the Sandovals the advantage of absolute the pregnancy.
"We talked about it, we talked about it," Art said. "It was like - let’s accord them a chance....You know? It’s- if it was meant to be, it's meant to be."
At 33 weeks, Aida gave bearing to Erika Rose and Eva Victoria. The girls were abutting from the sternum all the way bottomward to the belly and they aggregate a third leg.
The aboriginal time seeing them was “very emotional,” Aida Sandoval said.
“They accept tubes, they had the little covers over their eyes,” she said. “You can’t backpack them, they’re actual brittle … you feel abandoned because you catechism yourself, ‘Are we accomplishing the appropriate thing?’ But again you allocution to them, you say, ‘You are strong, and you’re activity to get through this.’”
The twins spent the aboriginal few months of their lives in the neonatal accelerated affliction unit. They weren’t accounted able abundant to go home until they were 7 months old.
When the Sandovals were accustomed to assuredly booty them home, Aida said she dressed them in little gowns. Over time, they accomplished milestones calm -- their aboriginal words, acquirements to angle and developing their own personalities, with Eva as the articulate one and Erika as the observer.
But by the time they accomplished 2 years old, Eva had developed stronger than her sister, and again their bloom started to decline, so the accommodation was fabricated to attack to abstracted them.
In aggravating to explain the anaplasty to the girls, Aida said, “I would consistently role play, and [say], ‘Some abracadabra is activity to happen, and Dr. Hartman is activity to be your magician.’”
The anaplasty was actual risky. The American Pediatric Surgical Association said that at that point, alone 250 break surgeries accept been auspiciously performed in the world, and doctors told the Sandovals that there was a 30 percent adventitious one of the twins would die.
Art Sandoval said they advised the odds, but in the end they knew their girls were fighters, and he said they believed, “They will cull through this.”
On the morning of the surgery, Dec. 7, 2016, the medical team, led by Hartman, started with a adoration allurement for unity, backbone and guidance. Hartman’s plan was to abstracted the organs in the girls’ chests aboriginal and again move bottomward the belly and accomplishment with the pelvis.
After five-and-a-half hours, the girls were afar successfully, but the anaplasty was far from over. The medical aggregation accomplished they didn’t accept abundant bark to abutting the girls’ incisions so they had to about-face to their already aggregate third leg.
“They had told us beforehand that they may accept been able to use that third leg and accumulate it and accord it to Erika, but aback it came bottomward to it, there wasn’t abundant tissue to awning up Erika. So they had to use the tissue of the leg,” Art said.
“That was absolutely hard,” Aida added. “It’s aloof like a bite in the gut.”
After 13 hours of surgery, Eva was wheeled into recovery. Her sister Erika followed two hours later. Their parents were on pins and all-overs until they saw the girls.
“I was aflame aloof to apperceive that they were animate still,” Aida said. “Just to apperceive -- see them breathing.”
In the weeks that followed, Erika, the already abate twin, thrived, authoritative amazing advance in concrete therapy, but accretion was a bigger claiming for Eva.
Through all of this, Aida was mostly parenting abandoned as Art, who had to accumulate alive full-time to awning the medical bills, collection the three hours from their home in Sacramento to the hospital in Palo Alto every weekend to appointment her and the twins.
Finally, three months afterwards their break surgery, the twins were accustomed to go home. Beneath the affliction of their bounded hospital, Eva and Erika connected to go to concrete analysis and were adapted for wheelchairs. At home, the ancestors acclimatized into a new routine, with Aida actuality able to airing alfresco with a adventurer congenital for two for the aboriginal time.
The best allotment of this accomplished journey, Aida said, was “finally bringing them home and actuality a family.”
“We’ll still say, ‘Dr. Hartman and his aggregation performed magic,’” she continued. “Eva will see her blister and she goes, ‘My sister was appropriate here.’ And I said, ‘Yes, your sister was appropriate there.’”
The girls fabricated amazing progress, before all expectations, but they still accept added challenges ahead. They accept been on agriculture tubes aback bearing and are aloof now accepting acclimated to bistro solid foods.
But they are all-embracing their ability as archetypal toddlers, abounding of concern and mischief.
“The affliction allotment is over,” Aida said. “We’re here. We’re done … aback you anticipate about it or aback you allocution about it, those affections do appear back. But appropriate now, it’s aloof attractive forward, attractive to the approaching … and they are vivacious, they are aloof -- they’re assuming little girls.”