The mother of twin boys successfully separated after being born joined at the chest says she's looking forward to holding the babies she once thought had no chance of survival.
"I'm just so happy that they're here and they're alive and thriving. It's the best feeling in the world," Jenni Ezell said Thursday during a news conference at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas.
The six-week-old boys, Owen and Emmett Ezell, are in stable condition after being separated in a delicate nine-hour operation at the hospital Aug. 24. They were born on July 15, joined from just below the breast bone to just below the belly button. The babies shared a liver and intestines and had an exposed area on their belly that wasn't covered by skin or muscle.
"The whole pregnancy was very frightening. I didn't know what would happen. I didn't know if they would make it. It's hard as a mom to know that," she said tearfully, with husband Dave Ezell by her side.
Dr. Clair Schwendeman, a neonatologist, said that once the boys were born, tests were done to determine exactly how and where their organs connected. During the operation, a team of surgeons separated the liver and intestines. Doctors said the most difficult part was separating a shared blood vessel in the liver.
"At this point they're as stable as we could hope for post-operatively," Schwendeman said.
Conjoined twins are rare, occurring in about one in 50,000 to one in 200,000 deliveries, the doctor said.
The Ezells, both 31, discovered the twins they were expecting were conjoined on March 1, when she was 17 weeks pregnant. The couple said their doctor there gave them little hope the babies would survive.
"We didn't think they had a chance, that they weren't going to make it at all," she said. "So we decided to abort and it was the hardest decision that a mother has to make."
The Dallas clinic where they went for the abortion had concerns that her scar from previous cesarean sections might tear and sent her to Medical City for a consultation about the scar tissue. During that visit, a doctor unexpectedly told the parents that there was hope for their unborn boys, Jenni Ezell said.
"I could not contain my joy," said Ezell, who added that since they weren't even looking for a second opinion, she felt that through the whole process God was leading them to "exactly where we needed to be."
The boys weighed a combined 11 pounds, 15 ounces at birth. Hospital officials say the twins had grown to more than 16 pounds when the surgery was done.
The family does not yet know when the boys might be able to leave the hospital. They are still connected to breathing machines and must heal from the surgery, Schwendeman said.
The twins are also expected to face at least one or two more surgeries in the future to repair the openings below their chests, which are currently covered with a mesh as doctors try to promote skin growth.
In the meantime, the Ezells are excited about letting the twins' two older brothers -- a 7 year old and 16 month old -- spend time with them now that they're separated. And they're looking forward to the day the two little boys can come home.
Updated Monday, Sept. 2, with correction: The Associated Press misspelled the last name of a doctor. His name is Schwendeman, not Schwenueman.