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Once Conjoined Twins Defying The Odds After Dallas Surgery

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - "I have two babies… two separate babies!" exclaimed Jenni Ezell—with both joy and tears filling her eyes.  The emphasis, appropriately enough, is on 'separate'.

Jenni and her husband, Dave, are the parents of once conjoined twin boys, successfully separated over the weekend at Dallas' Medical City Children's Hospital.  "A couple of pretty good looking babies, I'd say, " added Dave, with a relieved chuckle at an afternoon press conference with the Medical City staff. "They do look like Mom, fortunately for them."

Emmett Ezell
Separated conjoined twin Emmett Ezell. (credit: Medical City Children's Hospital)

And although Jenni insists that she hates to cry, the tears flowed freely Thursday as she talked about the baby boys that doctors say are both tiny miracles. "It's amazing," she said.  "It's the most wonderful feeling.  I'm just so happy that they're here… that they're alive and thriving."

Owen and Emmett were born July 15 at Medical City Children's, joined from the breast bone to the belly button.  The babies shared a liver and bowels and were also born with a birth defect called an omphalocele.  That means the infants' intestines were outside of their bodies, covered only by a thin layer of tissue.  Doctors knew of less than a dozen such cases, and generally the prognosis for separating conjoined twins isn't great.

Owen Ezell
Separated conjoined twin Owen Ezell. (credit: Medical City Children's Hospital)

"The best number is probably somewhere between 30- and 50-percent -- that you will have two surviving twins," explained Dr. Clare Schwendeman.  Schwendeman, a Neonatologist at Medical City Children's is part of the team now responsible for caring for the twins.  He credits a collaboration of professionals at the hospital for the successful separation—including the team of doctors that cared for Jenni during her extremely high risk pregnancy.

"The whole pregnancy was very frightening," said Jenni.  " I didn't know what would happen. I didn't know if they would make it.  I mean, it was hard, as a Mom."  But, the boys, right now, are doing well.

"They're still on some medications to keep them calm," says Dr. Schwendeman.  "At this point, they're as stable as we could hope for, postoperatively."

The Ezells learned in March that their twins were conjoined.  An out-of-state doctor recommended terminating the pregnancy.  "We didn't think that they had a chance.  We thought they were not going to make it at all. So we decided to abort," said Jenni.  And here, any attempt at composure is lost as she dissolves into tears.  "It was the hardest decision that a mother has to make about her babies."

But, specialists at Medical City Dallas had something else in mind—hope. "Our doctor here basically said 'these boys have a really good chance.  This is not your only option'," recalled Jenni. "And at that point, we were just floored."

"We really weren't seeking a second opinion, it's just that God gave us the second.  I feel like he's basically led us to exactly where we needed to be, and introduced us to the exact people, at the exact time…" Overcome with emotion, Jenni's voice stops and Dave finishes the spirit filled thought, adding "so, I guess the lesson is to have faith."

The boys are still facing more surgeries in a few years and doctors say it's still too soon to say when they'll be able to go home.  But, parents are already hoping for a holiday homecoming.

Meanwhile, family helps care for the Ezell's 7-year-old and 16-month-old sons during the week while Jenni spends 10 to 12 hours a day in the neonatal ICU.  She still can't hold her baby boys, yet, because of the risk of infection.  But, the Ezells can love on them.  They can stop guarding their hearts.  And they can start planning their tomorrows.

"Taking them home and having Christmas with them—I'm already planning their first birthday parties," says Jenni, "just everything.  I'm looking forward to everything."

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