The mother of a pair of conjoined twins who were successfully separated after a 20-hour operation on Friday has written a touching tribute post to the ‘real heroes’.
The story of Anias and Jadon McDonald, 13-month-old boys who were conjoined at the head, has become a national sensation in recent weeks.
But as the press dies down and the two boys sleep in their own separate beds, Nicole McDonald wanted to make sure the world knew the stories of the doctors, nurses and hospital staff who changed their lives – and hers.
Anias and Jadon had their life-threatening operation at Bronx’s Montefiore Hospital, a place that Nicole calls the ‘best second home we’ve ever had’.
Nicole said that neither she nor her husband Christian initially wanted to go public with their story, until they realized it would provide the chance to give credit to the people who saved their sons.
The mother-of-three has been flooded with supportive messages on her Facebook, but Nicole now wanted to turn the attention ‘back to the true heroes of our story’.
‘The real heroes of this story are the people who have put countless hours, days and months into the success of today,’ she began in her Facebook post.
That first hero was Dr James Goodrich. Nicole recalled speaking to him for the very first time on a holiday, when he returned her frantic voicemail asking that he help her sons.
‘He spent over an hour going through all of the details from the previous surgeries he had done,’ she wrote.
‘I knew he was the one from the beginning and I’ve never regretted it since.’
‘I truly believe that not only is he the most interesting man I’ve ever met, but he’s also the most giving and humble too.’
‘It’s because of this great man my babies are in their own beds today.’
Nicole then thanked Goodrich’s nurse practitioner, a woman named Kamilah, who she called her ‘go-to woman’ who had been ‘nothing short of extraordinary’.
‘She answers all of my calls, even at midnight,’ Nicole wrote. ‘She’s beautiful and caring and kind.’
Nicole then thanked the boys’ plastic surgeon Dr Tepper, and his practitioner Martine, for tirelessly planning the reconstruction of her sons’ heads, and their anesthesiologists Dr Kahana and Dr Mann.
‘These two are true unsung heroes,’ she added of the latter.
Nicole also thanked the entire staff at the hospital’s pediatric ICU unit, ‘from the attending doctors to the janitors’.
‘These people are the ones who dealt with us on a daily basis,’ she wrote. ‘And always with a smile.’
‘This is not a hospital, its a community. Everyone knows each other by first name. The caregiver support center in the heart of the hospital was my sanctuary.’
Nicole then expressed her gratitude to everyone who donated and to all her relatives who came to visit and help take care of her eldest son Aza, whiles he and Christian took care of their twins.
Then she thanked Christian, who Nicole revealed ‘gave up so many dreams, so many goals’ to become a stay-at-home father to Aza while Nicole took the twins to the hospital.
‘He makes me laugh when I’m crying,’ she wrote. ‘He picks me up off the floor when I just can’t seem to go on.’
‘And his eyes…the way he looks at all of our boys…it’s so touching. His heart is enormous.’
‘Marriage through a trial like this is not easy. But everyday he still wakes up and chooses to love me…and that’s saying something.’
‘I love him with all I have and then some. There is no one else I would want to go on this journey with.’
Nicole then dedicated a paragraph to her son Aza, her ‘precious little boy’ who ‘just rolls with the punches’.
‘At the age of three, he has moved four times,’ she wrote. ‘He went from having mommy every day to really only seeing me at night time. His heart is just like his daddy’s…full of love.’
‘He LOVES his babies and has never once noticed their connection. He just lays his head on them like I do to hug them, hands them their toys, and gives them their pacifiers.’
‘There are so many times I would come home from the hospital, totally exhausted, and he says “mommy hold you” because he wants me to snuggle him. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s holding me.’
Nicole then revealed that her ‘biggest hero’ was God, who she thanked for ‘guiding every single step of this process’ and ‘bringing together the perfect group of people to make a miracle happen’.
The touching Facebook post has already been liked more than 13,000 times and received more than a thousand comments.
Meanwhile, Anais and Jadon have finally been reunited, their two separate beds side-by-side as they continue to heal from an operation their doctors weren’t sure they would survive in the first place.
Half-way through the operation, Goodrich actually considered stopping the procedure altogether.
The doctors had discovered the boys shared far more brain tissue than they had expected – even despite using 3D imaging to prepare.
With every cut, Anias’ heart rate and blood pressure plummeted.
Eventually Goodrich found an opening and continued, successfully separating the two.
However, it means that while Jadon was wheeled out at 7am into the ward, Anias was still in surgery late on Friday morning.
He was finally returned to his family at 1pm on Friday. Doctors warned he could face severe physical issues.
Their parents Nicole and Christian, from near Chicago, Illinois, sat in the waiting room the whole time.
Nicole, 31, took to Facebook on Friday to explain all the details to the thousands of people that have followed the family’s story.
‘The overall atmosphere was one of celebration mixed with uncertainty,’ she explained.
‘Anias really got rocked in this procedure. It really now is up to God in terms of how he recovers.’
She added: ‘I keep picturing Anias smiling behind his right middle finger in his mouth. Twenty four hours ago he was so rambunctious…full of life. God please give me my baby back.’
Describing Jadon’s ordeal, Nicole wrote: ‘Jadon is such a rock star. They said he hardly batted an eye through the whole procedure in terms of maintaining his vitals.
‘It’s a bit surreal to sit here and type this…I should feel so happy…TWO SEPARATE BABIES!!!…and yet I ache with the uncertainty of the future.
‘I didn’t cry until the surgeon’s left the room. I was barely able to even utter the words “thank you” because of the pit that still sits heavy in my stomach. We are standing on the brink of a vast unknown.’
The boys were born via cesarean section last September near Chicago, Illinois. They were attached by the crown of the head.
Nicole and 37-year-old Christian insisted the boys were perfect as they were.
But in order to let them lead a normal life, they traveled to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, New York, to have one of the world’s most esteemed surgeons perform the incredibly rare operation to separate their heads.
The operation costs $2.5 million.
|They are pictured here waiting for surgery with their brother Aza|
The boys were wheeled into the operating theater at 7.15am on Thursday.
‘I could almost keep them like this,’ Nicole told CNN before the operation, admitting that she had become attached to the boys this way.
She said she knew this was for the best, but the fear that something could go wrong during surgery was excruciating.
‘This is so hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,’ she said before the operation.
Anias and Jadon, who have a three-year-old brother Aza, are technically called ‘craniopagus twins’ – a phenomenon that occurs just once in every 2.5 million births.
Based on national statistics, it is astonishing they made it to 13 months.
Around 40 percent of craniopagus twins are stillborn. Of those that survive, a third die within 24 hours of birth.
|The operation was performed by Dr James Goodrich (pictured), a neurosurgeon who specializes in separating conjoined twins at the head|
If craniopagus twins survive that point, there is still an 80 percent risk they would die before the age of two if they are not separated.
Separation means one or both of the twins may suffer developmental complications.
‘We know that is definitely a real possibility, but we’re still going to love our boys,’ Christian said before the surgery.
It is now clear Anias will likely suffer more severe disabilities than his twin brother.
The operation was performed by Goodrich, a neurosurgeon who specializes in separating conjoined twins at the head.
Dr Oren Tepper, a plastic surgeon, was in the room to reconstruct the skulls and stitch each head closed.
The team has spent months practicing and planning their strategy using a physical 3D model of the boys’ heads, plus computerized 3D modeling, where they can look at different scenarios.
|Based on national statistics, it is astonishing they have made it to 13 months. Around 40 per cent of craniopagus twins are stillborn. Of those that survive, a third die within 24 hours|
‘This is about as complicated as it gets,’ Goodrich told CNN.
‘I know the vascular system we have to go through is complex. It’s big. It’s doable, but it’s going to be tedious.’
But even despite the state-of-the-art technology, they were not prepared for the 5x7cm brain tissue the boys shared, that they had to separate.
They will now spend 72 hours in intensive care, then months in a rehab center.
According to Goodrich, their speech skills will not be affected, given that he is dealing with the back of the brain, but there is a chance they will struggle with movement.
He told CNN: ‘They have no back control because they’ve never sat up. They’ve never crawled.’
The family has health insurance, which covers a significant amount of the $2.5 million surgery.
However, they are $100,000 short.
To donate, visit their GoFundMe page.