The Family that Refused to Give Up
Imagine giving birth to conjoined twins and never knowing if they would ever be able to have normal lives. For one couple, this was their reality and the chances of separation were extremely low. However, they refused to let statistics beat them. Quitting their jobs to move to the United States, the new parents hoped they would find a team of medical professionals who could separate their girls.
You won’t believe their story.
The journey for these two little angels began the day they were born in February 2016. Named Ballenie and Bellanie, the twins were everything their parents Marino and Laurilin could have dreamed of. However, there was one big problem…
…the twins were conjoined by their lower backs.
Scared and Unsure
Marino was terrified for her daughters and their well-being. Since the babies were born in a hospital in the Dominican Republic, they had very little experience on how to care for the infants. According to Marino, the doctor kept stating he would see what he could do about the situation.
Ups and Downs
The days after the birth were filled with ups and downs. The doctors discovered that while the twins were attached at the tailbone, they also shared a major blood vessel. At this point, both Marino and her husband gave the situation up to God. Whatever happened, they knew it would be the right path for their family.
A Gift from God
Thankfully, their prayers were answered. A family friend who worked at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in New York believed that the medical team there could help. She immediately put the couple in touch with the hospital.
Nervous, they made the call…
The fearful yet hopeful parents were stunned by the response. The staff at the hospital agreed to help them and six months later the entire family was moving to New York. Thanks to the kindness of a family friend, they would have a place to stay during the procedure and recovery time. The family was also blessed with donations to help pay for the surgery and recovery.
A Complicated Procedure
The procedure to separate the twins would be long and very involved. In fact, there would over 50 different medical professionals involved in the operation. Thankfully, the doctors put the young couple at ease. Despite being thousands of miles away from home in a new country, they knew they were in good hands.
The Day Finally Arrives
On January 17, 2017, the medical team arrived early in the morning to plan their approach and sketch out the procedure visually. A long day was ahead of them, but if they were diligent and careful, the young twins would make it through surgery just fine.
Months of Preparation
The team of doctors utilized a 3D printer to create a full-size model of the twins’ internal anatomy based on MRI’s and CT scans. The model provided a visual aid so they could plan how to separate the twins safely and which parts of their anatomy were most intertwined.
A Physician’s Philosophy
“You have to think of the body like a house,” lead surgeon, Dr. Samir Pandya told his team. “From outside, the walls and everything may look great, but take down the plaster, see the writing, and the framework and the pipes, and things become more complicated.”
Pandya knew that the separation of the twins’ internal organs would be a very delicate and complicated task. For both Ballenie and Bellanie, the team of 50 surgeons and specialists would have to separate the spinal cord, spinal bone, blood vessels and gastrointestinal connections. This would be a very intense procedure, but the team had confidence in its success.
A Medical “Symphony”
Dr. Pandya compared the operation to a symphony. Each specialist had their part to play at a critical time. The orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons and neurosurgeons all worked in tandem to help separate the twins. However, things became very complicated late into the surgery when they had to work around a critical blood vessel that could be life-threatening if not handled properly.
22 Hours Later
Thankfully, the team was able to work around the blood vessel and not harm it in any way. In fact, after 22 hours the twins were successfully separated. Of course, this was just the beginning of their journey. They would require skin grafts and other procedures down the line.
The Little Butterflies
The Camacho family had a long road ahead of them. One that would require physical therapy and weeks in the hospital. However, they remained positive, nicknaming the twins their “little butterflies.”
A New Lease on Life
With the girls separated and finally beginning to adjust to being their own person, the media caught wind of the miraculous procedure. In front of the cameras, the Camacho family graciously revealed the twins to the crowd, the family beaming with pride and love.
No Easy Task
A local news conference asked about the surgery, to which Dr. Michael Gewitz said it was a “herculean effort.” However, despite the intensity of the procedure, they believed the girls would thrive and hit all of the key milestones expected of them, such as crawling and walking on their own.
A Super Bowl Surgery
Another doctor involved with the intense operation was Dr. Whitney McBride, who said the twins’ surgery was like the “Super Bowl” or “World Series.” You simply didn’t get anything bigger than that in terms of operations in a lifetime.
Reunited as a Family
During their time in recovery at the ICU, the twins spent a good deal of time separated. However, the moment they were reunited they were blowing kisses to one another. We have a feeling these two girls are going to be best friends for life.
We’re in this Together
According to the twins’ father, the medical staff had become a family. They may have been his daughters, but they also were the amazing medical team’s family as well. According to the Camachos it was a time of happy tears and love. Despite the babies still having their bandages, they know it is just a temporary trial.
The Future is Bright
Thanks to the surgery, the smaller twin Ballenie who had been born with a congenital heart condition was healthier than ever. The family was eager for a future where the girls were living happy, independent lives.
The World is Their Oyster
“I want them to go to school, for them to play freely…Even if it’s in a wheelchair, anything, but with their freedom and independence,” Laurilin said. Marino added, “We are ready to undertake a fight of this new chapter of our daughters’ lives.”
We think these two girls will accomplish anything they set their mind to.