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Conjoined twins successfully separated in 'landmark' surgery that took 24 hours

TODAY logo TODAY 10/31/2020 Ronnie Koenig
a person holding a baby © Provided by TODAY

Nine-month-old twin girls, who were born with a rare condition where they were conjoined at the head, have been separated in a successful surgery at UC Davis Children's Hospital in Sacramento, California.

The baby girls, Abigail and Micaela Bachinskiy, now have a chance at leading independent lives. Surgeons worked through a 24-hour surgery to divide large veins and brain matter that connected the twins and then reconstruct their skulls, according to a news release from the hospital.

The girls' mom, Liliya Miroshnik, 33, of North Highlands, California, has been documenting the twins' entire journey on Instagram and shared a photo of her sweet babies before the surgery last week.

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Liliya and Anatoliy Bachinskiy learned 11 weeks into the pregnancy that the babies had a rare condition known as craniopagus twins and that the girls would be born connected at the head. According to the Mayo Clinic, this means the twins are usually born with their skulls fused and share some brain tissue but have separate brains.

"Conjoined twins are already extremely rare, but craniopagus twins are even more so," said the hospital in the news release. "Only two percent of conjoined twins are born fused at the head. Craniopagus twins occur in approximately one in every 2.5 million births."

a small child sitting on a bed: Abigail and Micaela Bachinskiy underwent a 24-hour surgery at UC Davis Children's Hospital on Oct. 23 and 24. Abigail and Micaela Bachinskiy underwent a 24-hour surgery at UC Davis Children's Hospital on Oct. 23 and 24.

Already parents to three boys, Miroshnik and Bachinskiy prepared as best they could before the girls were born on December 30, 2019. It wasn't until Abigail and Micaela were nine months old that doctors at UC Davis said it was time to separate them.

“As they get older, there are more risks of shared blood vessels and organs becoming larger or more entwined," said lead plastic surgeon Granger Wong. "The upcoming flu, COVID-19 and RSV season was also a concern.”

Related: With multiple viruses spreading at once, here's what to do if your child becomes ill.

The surgical team tracked the twins' progress through MRIs and CT scans. To encourage skin growth, doctors placed tissue expanders under the skin of the girls' heads so that there would be skin to cover the openings once they were separated. The elite team also practiced on 3D models of the girls' heads so that they would be ready to operate with precision once the surgery began.

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Last Saturday, a team of over 30 surgical professionals gathered, wearing different colored caps to denote their jobs in the operating room. The team was lead by pediatric neurosurgeon Michael Edwards, chief of plastic surgery Granger Wong, director of pediatric anesthesiology Rajvinder Dhamrait and Children’s Surgery Center nursing lead Aida Benitez.

"It was like a choreographed ballet," said Wong.

Dr. Michael Edwards et al. standing in a room: Over 30 surgeons, nurses and medical professionals worked to separate the twin girls. Over 30 surgeons, nurses and medical professionals worked to separate the twin girls.

At 3:28 a.m. on Sunday, Edwards announced, "Cranial separation!" and the entire team clapped and cheered, according to UC Davis. Edwards called the surgery "landmark" for UC Davis Children's Surgery Center as it was the first time they had separated conjoined twins.

Miroshnik posted videos of herself on Instagram snuggling with each of her daughters after the surgery and the connection between the mom and her babies is palpable.

"With Micaela 💕" Miroshnik posted on Friday along with a moving video of her baby gazing into her eyes.

"With Abigail 💕" the mom captioned another video in which she pats her alert and beautiful daughter on the back.

A week later, the twins are still in the hospital with no release date set, but they have been extubated and are doing well.

"The girls are doing great," Liliya Miroshnik told TODAY Health. "The doctors are really happy with how they are recovering. They are just responding. They are screaming for mamma and daddy. They really recognize our faces. It’s just awesome.”

a person holding a baby: Liliya Miroshnik is grateful for the surgical team that separated her 9-month-old twin girls. Liliya Miroshnik is grateful for the surgical team that separated her 9-month-old twin girls.

As for how life is with two separate baby girls, mom and dad are adapting.

“It’s so exciting. It’s so different but we are getting used to it," she said. "I feel that God is alive. He keeps working in our lives."

“I’m still getting used to it," said the twins' dad. "It’s not easy honestly, but we are really happy. This has been a long time coming, so we are really happy.”

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