When a couple gave birth to conjoined twins in the Dominican Republic, they thought their chances of having their girls separated were slim to none.
Still, the family quit their jobs and sold their home to come to the United States, hoping that they could find a team of medical professionals that could separate their girls. Their journey began on the day their little girls were born…
With only one vowel to differentiate their names, Ballenie and Bellanie were born into the world in February 2016. Their parents, Marino Abel Camacho and Laurilin Celadilla Marte were surprised when they saw that their babies were attached at the lower back.
Their Fate Was Uncertain
“We were very scared,” Marino said. Her children were born in a hospital in the Dominican Republic, where there wasn’t really a hospital that has experience dealing with this. After they were born, the doctor just kept saying, “I’ll see what I can do.”
An Additional Challenge
In the days after the twins were born conjoined at the tailbone, they faced an additional challenge. The girls also shared a major blood vessel and that’s when the family decided to put it in the hands of God, according to their mom Laurilin.
A Gift From God
Fortunately for the family, a friend worked at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, in Valhalla, NY, which is part of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network. When she heard of the Camachos’ situation, she put them in touch with the hospital…
Flew To New York
Within six months, Ballenie, Bellanie, and their parents were on their way to New York, where they crashed with their family friend in Flushing. The cost of the twins surgery would be provided through philanthropy and the couple had to raise funds to pay for their visas and the twins’ medical bills in Santo Domingo.
Procedure Involving 50 Medical Professionals
“When we arrived, everything was so cloudy and uncertain,” said 24-year-old Laurilin. “We had no idea what would happen with the babies, but right away, when we came to the hospital, the doctors put us at ease.” The family learned that the procedure to separate the twins would involve about 50 medical professionals…
Morning Of January 17, 2017
At least they knew their children would be in good hands with the help of many experienced and remarkable surgeons. Before the operation, which began on the morning of January 17, 2017, the medical team had spent hours preparing and sketching out their approach.
Preparation Before The Operation
They used a 3D printer to produce a skeletal model, based on CT scans and MRIs, which included the triangular bone at the spine’s base. The model helped give doctors a better idea of the size and “special relationships” of the targeted area, but it could not substitute for actual surgery…
Think Of The Body Like A House
This, of course, would prove to be complicated, but Dr. Samir Pandya, a leader of the surgical team, told the medical professionals to think of the body as a house. “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.”
They Must Careful Separate All That’s Inside
Dr. Pandya told those involved that they had to separate all of those pipes and that framework. For Ballenie and Bellanie, the team had to separate spinal cord, spinal bone, blood vessels, gastrointestinal connections, and more…
The Operation Was Like A “Symphony”
When it came time for the surgery, orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons, and neurosurgeons each played their parts in the surgery. Dr. Pandya likened the operation to a “symphony,” but the 11th hour became tough when general surgeons had to work around a critical blood vessel. “This was the most life-threatening portion of the surgery,” Pandya said.
Nearly 22-Hour Surgery
If the team cut the blood vessel, the results could have been catastrophic, but by a miracle of God and some skilled professionals, the 21-hour surgery was a success. After the operation, the babies required skin-grafting and other procedures…
Next, they would undergo physical therapy and other outpatient services. But for the time being, the Camacho family basked in the moment and glared lovingly at their two girls who they nicknamed Las Maripositas, also known as little butterflies.
Already Loving Life
In front of new cameras, with hospital staff applauding, the parents proudly carried Ballenie and Bellanie, one baby wearing a light-blue headband with a flower, and the other wearing a pink one. Already, the girls seemed to assert themselves, when one reached out and grabbed the microphone as a television reporter was interviewing their parents…
“It Was A Herculean Effort”
At a news conference, physicians said the girls were expected to thrive and that they were optimistic that they would eventually reach key milestones, including sitting up and walking on their own. “We’re happy that this day has come after a long journey,” said Dr. Michael Gewitz, the children’s hospital’s physician-in-chief. “It really was a herculean effort.”
It Was The “Super Bowl” Of Surgeries
Dr. Whitney McBride, one of the lead surgeons, said that the twins’ surgery was “kind of the Super Bowl of surgeries, the World Series…You don’t get much bigger than this.” He was just one of the doctors involved in the girls’ surgery and he recalled the actual moment they were separated as “tremendously, tremendously dramatic.”
The Separation Was A Huge Accomplishment
McBride added that the operation team took a brief break to applaud their accomplishment. In the following week after their separation, the sisters proved their bond was just as strong as when they were joined. They blew kisses at each other when they were reunited after being released from the pediatric ICU.
“You Are Family Now”
Marino, the girls’ father told the medical staff that their efforts “have made our daughters your daughters.” He said the family has been crying a lot and it’s been a beautiful and emotional time. “Even when I look down at the babies and I see the bandages, I’m still happy.” But, this doesn’t mean that the road to Marino’s happiness has been without tribulations…
Looking Forward To A Bright Future
Shortly after the smaller twin, Ballenie was born, she was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition and they feared both girls could die. But now that the surgery is over, the family is thinking about their future and their girls living healthy and independent lives.
The Next Chapter
“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.”