For the last week, Americans have been following the dramatic story of twin baby girls from Guatemala, joined at the head -- until a daring, 22-hour operation by neurosurgeons in California separated them. The prognosis for both is cautiously optimistic.
Correspondent Jane Clayson reports on another amazing story of conjoined twins.
From the time she was a little girl, Emily Stark says she knew that twins were in her future. When she became pregnant in November, 2000, an ultrasound verified her premonition: she was carrying twins. Then she had another hunch: that they were joined. Doctors confirmed that she was right about that too.
At first, the Starks were devastated. But the twins were joined at the base of the spine and did not share any internal organs, which greatly improved their chances for survival. The Starks decided to keep the babies. Two months before the due date, Emily went into labor and delivered her twin girls, Alexandra and Sydney.
After the birth ot the twins Sydney and Lexi, the Starks decided to separate the girls. But the surgery carried the risk of paralysis. Could the team of doctors succeed?
"We could keep them forever or we can try to make their lives better with the potential that we may not be bringing them home," Emily said.
The key concern was whether the twins would be able to walk after the separation.
"What we don't know is exactly how commingled are the nerves that control the function of the legs," said Dr. Michael Handler, the pediatric neurosurgeon in charge of the case.
There were 57 medical personnel involved in the surgery.
The twins were joined at the base of their spine. Before doctors can operate on the tailbone, they had to carefully dissect their way through muscle in order to separate the twins' intestinal tract.
During the surgery, Dr. Handler had to determine where the twins' nerves were, and if necessary assign them correctly to each twin. It was this procedure that determined whether the girls would walk again. After 11 hours of surgery, the twins were separated.
Seeing them apart was an emotional moment for the parents. "I think Sydney was the first one. And I was just holding her, and hugging her, and kissing her," said Jim "And when I got up I couldn't even see out of my glasses because they were just covered with tears. And then I went over to Lexi and the same thing. So I think it was just that relief, and the joy of the realizing of our dream."
Soon after, both girls were moving their legs. Emily and Jim were ecstatic.
"They're just little miracles I think they have proven so many things," says Emily.
Jim and Emily learned they were expecting twins who were conjoined. The are separate now. But their family is bonded together in ways that can never be broken.
"I think one of the most important things we have learned is just to be grateful. Be grateful for the little things," says Emily.
© MMII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved