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Do you want to hear some delightful news that will do your heart some good? Recently Abby and Erin Delaney of North Carolina graduated from kindergarten! 

So what?

Well, the girls just proved their doctors wrong by defying their 2% chance of survival and earning their first diplomas!

Heather Delaney learned at just 11 weeks pregnant that she was carrying conjoined twins, Abby and Erin. She was admitted to the hospital at 27 weeks but went into labor naturally at 30 weeks. When they first found out, they “went into shock,” she said. “It’s something you only see on TV. I thought this doesn’t actually happen to people.”

Abby and Erin were born in July 2016, at 30 weeks, conjoined at the head due to a rare developmental condition that occurs when an early embryo only partially separates in the womb. They had a combined weight of just six pounds.

Despite being warned of the 2% survival rate, the girls’ parents were told Abby and Erin might be candidates for separation surgery when they were born. It would be the first surgery of its kind at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia due to the rarity of the girls’ condition. 

In June 2017, the girls underwent an intricate 11-hour procedure to separate their skulls. Against all odds, the operation was successful. 

It also had risks – ranging from mild brain damage to death – and the twins had several minor surgeries to prepare for their separation.

The girls’ parents said it was touch and go, particularly for Abby, who had lost 10 to 15 times her blood volume. 

“They replaced her entire body’s worth of blood several times when the surgeons had to clip her sagittal sinus to separate her from Erin. The surgeons actually told us they had never given that much blood to a patient in one go before, and the patient had survived,” Heather explained. 

It took five months before both girls could finally be discharged from the hospital to return to their Statesville, North Carolina, home. 

Even though the girls now have developmental delays, with both being around the 15-month mark, their mother says they’re both thriving as they near their 7th birthday. They are both non-verbal, but Erin has been walking since she was five, and now Abby is starting to walk too. “When Abby can run too, I’ll be in trouble – it’s hard enough chasing one,” Ms Delaney said. 

Twins conjoined at the head are known as craniopagus conjoined twins. Doctors told the Delaney family that the chance of having craniopagus twins was one in 2.5 million. The Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia says it’s the least common form of conjoined twins, making up about 2% of cases. About 70% are female, and in the case of craniopagus twins, they are always genetically identical and share the same sex.

The exact cause of conjoined twins is unclear, but there are two main theories. The first is fission, in which an early embryo splits into two spheres without completely separating. They then develop independently into conjoined twins. The second theory is fusion, in which an identical twin pregnancy contains two early twin embryo spheres that fuse together at a random point. 

At their graduation, Erin got a ‘dolphin award’ for her ‘adventurous heart’ and love for exploring. Abby was given the ‘deer award’ for being a ‘gracious friend who treats all people in a gentle and kind way.’

She says, “Watching them graduate was like we were dreaming. It’s one of those things where you feel like it’ll never come. We don’t yet know what they can accomplish, so the sky is the limit for them.” 

“I’m so proud of them both,” she said. 

Obviously, the girls don’t remember their surgery, but they see photos around the house from when they were still conjoined, and “One day we’ll sit them down and talk about it properly – we want them to be proud of who they are and where they’ve come from,” their mother said.

Abby and Erin are definitely living, breathing miracles. We hope they are proud of who they are and where they came from. We certainly are!