Eight-month-old conjoined twins Amelia Lee and Allison June are some of the most talked-about babies at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.
They carry the title best dressed because they wear fashionable clothes and their mothers handmade bows, but the girls also are being prepared for the biggest change in their life separation surgery.
Since their birth March 1 at 35 weeks gestation, both girls have gone through multiple tests and procedures to make sure theyre best prepared for the minimum-eight-hour procedure, which may be as early as next week.
Its been one of the most incredible journeys, said Shellie Tucker, the girls mother. She and her husband, Greg, live in Adams. Theyre miracles that are here, doing so well and blowing everyones mind.
The girls are connected from their breast to belly, but they share only a portion of their livers. Thats good news for the girls, as many conjoined twins are connected through multiple vital organs. If the surgical team finds any connected glands, the entire procedure will take longer than eight hours, Mrs. Tucker said.
When reached at the girls room at the hospital Wednesday, Mrs. Tucker said surgery preparation has included both Amelia and Allison receiving tissue expanders to stretch out their skin where the surgery will take place. This procedure hopefully will make sure the girls have enough skin to close their incisions after surgery, Mrs. Tucker said.
She said her girls are proving their strength and resilience.
Theyve taken everything like champs, Mrs. Tucker said. They get stuck with a needle twice a day and they dont cry. They giggle, laugh and coo. Its important to remember when going through struggles to suck it up and deal with it. Theyre not fussing at any point in time.
Thats because theyve been used to a team of 75 to 100 medical professionals from among the neonatal intensive care unit, where they were for the first seven weeks of life, the nurses on the floor their room is on, and the people involved in tests and procedures. But that doesnt mean the girls like them.
We like to take the girls on lots of walks in the hospital, and Allison loves to smile at anyone except anyone dressed as a doctor, in those blue scrubs, Mrs. Tucker said. Amelia is very serious, and she is so hard to get to smile except for her daddy, brother and me. Its funny how different they are.
Mrs. Tucker said she and her husband, Greg, adore the love Amelia and Allison have for each other. She said they hold each others hands and try to comfort each other. They also work together for a little mischievous behavior, she said.
Theyll pull out each others feeding tubes, and theyre constantly grabbing them, Mrs. Tucker said. They now work together to take each others socks off on their hands to get their hands free.
The girls still have feeding tubes because they need to eat every three hours. The tissue expanders put pressure on their stomachs, Mrs. Tucker said, and they often dont feel like eating on their own.
The girls have come a long way since their birth, and now hold their heads up and use one of their favorite play items: an iPad. Hospital staff started giving them baby food at the beginning of October, and while Amelia hated rice cereal, both girls loved squash.
Its very hard to feed them because they cant sit up yet, Mrs. Tucker said. It takes quite a few therapists.
As their individual personalities begin to shine, their big brother, Owen W., 2, stands by to protect them.
He loves his babies, Mrs. Tucker said. He has to stand between them and people. He loves to help out and play peek-a-boo with them by running around their bed.
More than anything, she said, support has come from the north country, from people throughout the country and from the Childrens Miracle Network of Northern New York at Samaritan Medical Center. The Tucker twins have been featured on the CMN radiothon, which airs on the Border 106.7 and 94.1 the Rock until 6 p.m. Friday. Most important, Mrs. Tucker said, she and her husband have received support through prayer and thoughts from St. Cecilias Catholic Church, Adams. The church has set up a volunteer prayer session all day on the day of the separation surgery.
I dont know if were prepared enough, mentally, Mrs. Tucker said. Our biggest thing is we have to go through this open-minded and trust the doctors. Its completely out of our hands.
Recovery time depends on how the surgery goes, she said, but when the girls are discharged itll be another adventure. The Tuckers recently found an apartment in Watertown that they soon need to move into.
Well have to move into a new place, and set up a new nursery, and that adds another stress, Mrs. Tucker said. A lot of people said theyre willing to help and well definitely take them up on their effort. The biggest thing Im looking forward to, though, is to cook my family dinner. I cant wait to be home.