Sarabeth and Amelia Irwin spent the first 13 months of their lives inseparable: they’d never slept in their own beds, played in different rooms or ever been held alone.
But that world dramatically changed after doctors at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital successfully separated the one-year-old conjoined twins who were connected from their chests to belly buttons.
The nearly 11-hour surgery, which is the first of its kind at Mott and believed to be the first in the state of Michigan, involved a team of more than two dozen doctors, nurses and other specialists who spent months preparing for the complex procedure.
Each girl was born with two arms and two legs, individual hearts and digestive tracts, but their livers were connected.
“For everyone in the room, it was a very emotional and extraordinary moment when the last incision was made to separate these girls from one to two,” says George Mychaliska, M.D., pediatric and fetal surgeon at Mott.
“This was a monumental team effort that involved virtually every clinical department here and a group that was incredibly committed to collaborating in the most innovative way.”
Parents Alyson and Phil Irwin, of Petersburg, are already enjoying new firsts with their twin girls who came home about a month after the surgery.
“We just keep saying, ‘they’re in separate beds.’ It seems like such a normal thing. But for us, it’s pretty incredible,” Phil says.
“Sarabeth and Amelia are different people with their own attitudes and personalities,” he adds. “They deserve to live their own lives. They will always have a strong bond, but we knew we had to give them a chance to be separate because they are separate people. We are thankful to the doctors at U-M who gave them that chance.”
“It will be the best feeling to hold, cuddle and snuggle them,” Alyson says.
Multiple teams across many specialties were involved with coordinating the separation surgery, each playing a unique role from pre-operative to post-operative care. Mychaliska led the surgical team, along with pediatric plastic surgeon Steven Kasten, M.D. and pediatric heart surgeon Richard Ohye, M.D.
Pediatric surgeon Marcus Jarboe, M.D., pediatric heart surgeon Jennifer Romano, M.D., pediatric plastic surgeon Christian Vercler, M.D. and pediatric otolaryngologist Aaron Thatcher, M.D. were also part of the team.