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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

For Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith Mata, starting full-day school is not just a milestone, it's another sign they are thriving as independent girls.

The formerly conjoined twins — who were separated during a marathon surgery in 2015 — are now 5 and have recently started pre-K in Littlefield, Texas. They “love it” and are excited to take the bus to school starting next week, their mom said.

Formerly conjoined twins Adeline Faith, left, and Knatalye Hope Mata started pre-K 4 in Littlefield, Texas, this month.Courtesy Elysse Mata

“They’re doing really well. They’ve just grown and blossomed so much. They’re so strong,” Elysse Mata, 30, told TODAY.

The twins were born via Cesarean section 31 weeks into her pregnancy on April 11, 2014. They were joined at the chest, sharing their lungs, the lining of the heart, diaphragm, liver, intestines, colon and pelvis. They weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces each.

Elysse Mata holds her conjoined twin girls in the neonatal intensive care unit as they await separation surgery in 2015.Courtesy Allen Kramer/Texas Children’s Hospital Houston, Texas

Early on, doctors put their chances of survival at 20 percent, which inspired their parents to choose the middle names of Faith and Hope, according to a family Facebook page.

The girls were separated on Feb. 17, 2015, at Texas Children’s Hospital during a complex surgery that lasted 26 hours and involved 12 surgeons, six anesthesiologists and eight surgical nurses. An exact 3-D printed model of the twins' anatomy helped surgeons plan the best way to ease them apart.

In the years since, the girls have received physical, speech and occupational therapy. Now, they’re running, climbing and jumping with other kids at pre-K, where they especially love recess, Mata said. The biggest adjustment for her has been having them out of the house after caring for them 24/7.

Both girls still have tracheotomy tubes and still use ventilators at night. Knatalye is less dependent on hers than Adeline, and the family is hoping both girls can have their trachs removed soon. They have some developmental delays, but Mata hopes that becoming immersed in school will help them.

Adeline had more health issues than her sister from the start and had to stay in the hospital longer. She still relies on a gastrostomy button — a feeding tube that goes directly into the stomach — to get nutrition.

The twins enjoy running, climbing and jumping with other kids at pre-K, where they especially love recess.Courtesy Elysse Mata

Knatalye eats mostly by mouth and no longer has a gastrostomy button, Mata said. Her favorite foods are beans, peanut butter, cheese, yogurt, apple sauce, fruits and veggies, chocolate milk and Sprite.

“She still is the wild one,” Mata said of Knatalye, while Adeline “is still my very quiet and calm one. She loves to be cuddled and snuggled.”

Before the twins were separated, she said, "I always prayed and I hoped that [after] the surgery, this would be the outcome that we got."

“But I doubted it," Mata admitted. "What if they don’t fight that hard? What if they don’t have it in them to do it? But to look at them now, I don’t know how I ever doubted that because they are amazing.”