Identical twins born fused at the torso have successfully been separated during a grueling and complex surgery that lasted seven hours and included a team of 75 specialists.
Anna and Hope Richards had been conjoined for 13 months, sharing a chest wall, diaphragm, liver and lining of the heart. They also had a large blood vessel connecting their hearts.
"We've thought about and prayed for this day for almost two years," said an elated Jill Richards, the babies' mother. "It's an indescribable feeling to look at our girls in two separate beds."
The intricate surgery had been in the works for months at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. In November, surgeons inserted tissue expanders in the girls to grow and stretch their skin so it could cover the long incision to separate their bodies.
Jill and Michael Richards learned she was carrying conjoined twins during a routine ultrasound. The family underwent a battery of tests and medical consultations to come up with a delicate strategy for delivering and caring for the newborns.
Anna and Hope arrived via C-section on Dec. 29, 2016 and weighed a combined 9 pounds, 6 ounces. The parents, who also have two sons, relocated to the Houston area while the girls were cared for in the NICU and surgeons from an array of fields devised a plan to separate them.
“Through simulations and countless planning meetings, we were able to prepare for situations that could arise during the separation," said chief surgeon Harry Hollier.
"We are thrilled with the outcome and look forward to continuing to care for Anna and Hope as they recover,” he said.
The parents have declined interview requests, saying they are focused on helping their babies recover from last month's surgery.
The hospital announced the operation this week.
"The success of this incredibly complex surgery was the result of our dedicated team members' hard work throughout the last year," said Hollier.