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A brief video showing Jadon and Anias McDonald gazing at each other and saying “dada” on Facebook shows just how far the boys have come. Only nine weeks after surgery, the formerly conjoined twins have moved to Blythedale Children’s Hospital, a rehab facility, to start the next phase of their recovery.
“This is a bittersweet day for us,” mom Nicole McDonald said in a statement. “We are so proud of the strength our boys show us every day as they progress in their recovery, and we are looking forward to seeing them thrive in rehab, but the people at Montefiore have become our extended family.”
The 15-month-old twins were born conjoined at the head, which is also known as craniopagus twins. This rare occurrence affects one out of every 2.5 million births and almost half, 40 percent, are stillbirths.
Nine weeks ago, a team 40 medical staff led by Dr. James Goodrich — director of pediatric neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Montefiore in the Bronx — separated the twins in an arduous 27-hour surgery. Since then, the twins made a stunning recovery.
"Nine weeks is an exceptionally short time for what they underwent and it exceeds all of our hopes and expectations," Dr. Oren Tepper, a plastic surgeon who led the team that reconstructed the twins' skulls, told TODAY.
Even though the boys made a strong recovery, they faced challenges. Both suffered infections and Anias experienced seizures, a common side effect of the surgery, which involved cutting into brain tissue to separate them.
"The infections didn’t totally surprise us either. When you have surgery for that long and wounds are open it is likely to get bacteria there," Tepper said.
The twins breathe on their own, eat, and play together, something that brings the family great joy. Because of ongoing infections doctors had to remove part of Anias’ skull. But, doctors don't expect this to slow him down.
"It’s not going to hold him back at all in terms of development or recovery," Tepper said. "He is going to require some reconstruction down the road."
Both boys wear protective helmets that help shape their heads and Anias will likely need to wear his longer.
But, Tepper expects the twins to continue their rapid recovery in the rehab hospital, where they will learn to crawl, walk, and hone their fine motor skills.
"They are really well ahead of the curve," he said.
The boys will return to the Children’s Hospital of Montefiore for weekly follow-up appointments. Tepper believes that the attentive hospital staff, plus the family's support, including Nicole McDonald's experience working in physical therapy, contributed to the twins stellar recovery.
“Nicole and Christian are incredible people," Tepper said. "I can’t put a metric on how valuable I think it was but the support around them … the support they got from around the world helped in some indefinable way."