By the time they were just four years old, conjoined twins Kendra and Maliyah Herrin had already faced a lifetime of challenges, but their journey had only just begun. After years of surgeries, rehabilitation, and medical complications, the girls finally have some big news!
The Beginning Of A Long Journey
Kendra and Maliyah have been overcoming obstacles their entire lives. Even though their birth was a miracle in itself, the girls had a long road ahead of them, and their biggest challenges were still awaiting them…
A Difficult Dilema
Kendra Deene Herrin and Maliyah Mae Herrin were born on February 26, 2002, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The sisters came into the world as a rare set of Ischiopagus/Omphalopagus conjoined twins. This means that Kendra and Maliyah were connected at the abdomen and pelvis and shared numerous vital organs and one pair of legs. As the girls grew up, their parents were faced with a difficult and life-changing dilemma. Either keep the girls conjoined or attempt an extremely risky separation surgery.
Family Is Everything
Kendra and Maliyah were born to parents Erin and Jake Herrin. The conjoined twins have an older sister named Courtney and two younger fraternal twin brothers, Austin and Justin. The young Herrin family has faced countless challenges and have depended on each other for support through all the ups and downs. They have realized that they are their strongest when they work together. This inspirational family faced their biggest challenge in 2006, when Kendra and Maliyah were just four years old.
Facing A Challenge
Before her due date, Erin Herrin, mother of Kendra and Maliyah, underwent ultrasound screenings which revealed that she was pregnant with conjoined twins. “One doctor told us he thought everything from the twins’ chest, down was mush, and they didn’t have the organs they needed to survive on their own outside of my womb,” Erin said. This distressing news had the young mother wondering if she had the strength to face the inevitable medical problems that were facing her unborn twins.
Whatever It Takes
After learning of their twins’ uncertain fate, Erin and Jake decided they’d do whatever it took to give their babies a chance at survival. “Another doctor told us to simply abort the twins because it was all too complicated. But I’d seen our daughters’ faces close up, at an MRI scan, and fallen in love with them,” said Erin. “I was determined to do whatever it took to bring them into the world safely, even if it meant risking my own life.”
Kendra and Maliyah Herrin have been defying odds their entire lives. Leading up to their birth, doctors were unsure that they’d survive their first weeks. According to statistics from the University of Maryland Medical Center, between 40 and 60 percent of conjoined twins arrive stillborn, and 35 percent will stay alive for one day. The Center also reported that the overall survival rate of conjoined twins is between 5 and 25 percent. Born eight weeks premature, the Herrin twins needed extra care and attention.
Given their condition, doctors predicted that Kendra and Maliyah might never succeed in learning how to crawl. Somehow, the girls exceeded all expectations as infants. Not only did they learn how to crawl, but they even figured out how to stand on two feet! “They’re amazing babies… Smiling all the time,” described the twins’ mother in an interview. Despite an uncertain future, Kendra and Maliyah were progressing quickly. However, Erin and Jake knew that they couldn’t spend their entire lives conjoined.
They Needed To Make A Decision
Even though the twins were thriving, doctors couldn’t say for sure that they’d be able to maintain a conjoined lifestyle into adulthood. Whether it would happen in a day or several years into the future, Kendra and Maliyah were bound to face life-threatening health problems as they grew up. Erin and Jake were now faced with an excruciating decision: Either keep the twins together and face the inevitable problems when they come or go through with a risky operation.
Worth The Risk?
A separation surgery was particularly dangerous for Kendra and Maliyah because the conjoined sisters shared an abdomen, pelvis, liver, kidney, large intestine, as well as two legs. While a successful separation promised a higher likelihood of survival into adulthood, the operation also came with a risk of losing either one or both of the sisters. Erin and Jake wanted to weigh their options carefully before moving forward with the decision that would affect them and their daughters for the rest of their lives.
The Big Problem
The biggest medical issue facing Kendra and Maliyah was their shared kidney. After performing various medical tests and screenings, doctors determined that a potential separation surgery would involve Kendra retaining the kidney, and Maliyah needing a transplant. Normally, separation surgeries are carried out as soon as possible, but because kidney transplants are typically impossible in infants, the girls would need to wait until they were four-years-old to undergo surgery if doctors wanted to go down that route.
The First Operation Of Its Kind
A surgery separating conjoined twins with a shared kidney had never been attempted before. Because the surgery would be significantly more dangerous for Maliyah, who would be losing a kidney, medical ethicists from the United States and Europe convened to discuss whether or not the option for surgery was ethical and feasible. Even if the surgery allowed the girls to live independent lives, did the potential risks truly outweigh the rewards? After discussing all options, the medical experts came to an agreement.
Taking A Chance
Doctors determined that the risky separation surgery would give Kendra and Maliyah the best possible chance at survival and quality living into adulthood. After fully understanding the risks involved, Erin and Jake agreed to go through with the operation. Now, all they had to do was wait until their daughters were old enough. The months leading up to the surgery were nerve-wracking, and even though the future was uncertain, Erin and Jake needed to reassure their daughters that everything would be ok.
A Long Road Ahead
Even though surgery was the best option available for the conjoined twins, there were no guarantees that their quality of life would improve after the separation. Whether or not they decided on surgery, Erin and Jake understood that their daughters faced a long road of rehabilitation, physical therapy, and even future medical problems. Following the operation, both sisters would be left with just one leg, meaning that they would need to spend years learning how to walk with prosthetic legs.
A Painstaking Surgery
On August 7, 2006, six surgeons worked together on the Kendra and Maliyah’s separation surgery. The operation, which was the first ever single-kidney conjoined twin separation, went on for close to 18 hours. The next morning, both girls then had their own individual operations, which lasted an additional eight hours each. According to statistics, only 75 percent of surgical separations result is at least one twin surviving. Thankfully, both Kendra and Maliyah were able to pull through following their long and grueling operations.
The Challenges Were Only Beginning
Even though the surgery was complete, Kendra and Maliyah still had a long road ahead of them. Neither twin was able to leave the hospital for six weeks following the operation. They now faced the long and grueling process of learning how to walk, live, and function as independent individuals. Because Maliyah was missing a kidney, she began immediate hemodialysis, a routine which lasted until she was ready for a kidney transplant from her very own mother in early April 2007.
Prayers Were Answered
Once the girls were stabilized after surgery, Jake and Erin decided to address the public, who had been closely following the Herrin’s dramatic story and praying for the best possible outcome. “Everything is going as well as we could hope and pray for. Prayers are working,” said Jake. Erin then added, “They’ve given us courage we didn’t realize 4-year-olds could possess.” The twins’ miraculous recovery proved to strengthen the family’s bond. Nothing could stop them.
A Mother’s Gift
Maliyah required special care, including extra nutrition administered through a feeding tube, as well as three dialysis sessions per week. When Erin was told her daughter needed a new kidney, she did not hesitate for one second. She was ready to do anything she had to for the sake of Maliyah’s health. Kidney transplants are often risky, however, and even though Erin’s kidney was a match, there was no way of knowing for sure if Maliyah’s body would accept it.
The Rehabilitation Routine
In addition to Maliyah’s special treatment, after they returned home from the hospital, both twins needed to have their bandages changed three times a week. Taking off the old bandages and putting on new ones took two hours for each sister. Even though the twins were recovering at a steady pace, they remained prone to infections as a result of the titanium rods that were surgically placed in their backs in an effort to help their spines straighten out.
While Kendra and Maliyah certainly enjoyed their new lives as separate individuals, to this day, they still share a close bond as sisters. “The girls were happy to be independent at last, but sometimes I’d find them playing and walking around the house on crutches, sometimes holding on to one another like they were still conjoined,” said Erin. Learning how to live in their own bodies was a serious adjustment for the girls, but they welcomed every challenge with a smile.
As the first ever successful separation surgery of conjoined twins with a shared kidney, the groundbreaking story of Kendra and Maliyah garnered instant attention from various national media outlets. Just five months after their separation surgery, the twins appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with their parents. On the show, the girls were praised for their bravery, willpower, and determination. Smiling from ear to ear and giggling to themselves, the twins were welcomed onto the stage with a roaring applause from the audience.
Taking Steps Forward
One of the most daunting tasks facing Kendra and Maliyah after their operation was learning how to walk using prosthetics. Because each sister was left with one leg after surgery, they needed to learn how to move from scratch. Initially, the girls were limited to crawling and relying on their arms to help scoot their bodies around the house and onto furniture, but after lots of hard work in physical therapy with the often uncomfortable prosthetics, they began to see serious improvement in their mobility.
The Herrin Courage
Even though the girls made it through the operation and are well on their way to recovery, they still require additional surgeries twice a year to ensure that their spines grow and develop as straight as possible. While it would be difficult for most people to maintain a positive attitude through all of the seemingly endless operations and medical complications, Kendra and Maliyah aren’t most people. They may be young, but these girls are much stronger and tougher than they look!
Nothing Gets In Their Way
At the end of the day, Kendra and Maliyah are just two regular girls born into extraordinary circumstances. While at times, they may struggle with even simple tasks, they have never let their condition get in the way of living normal lives. Like most kids, the twins are active and sometimes silly. “I like swimming, playing with friends, riding bikes, jumping on the tramp[oline],’ said Kendra on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Maliyah then added “Eating!” Kendra responded by saying “Yeah, eating!”
Kids At Heart
In their interviews on The Oprah Winfrey Show, both Kendra and Maliyah admitted that their surgeries “stink.” They also spoke about how much they miss the family’s dog every time they need to stay in the hospital for a long period of time. It is often difficult for doctors to fathom that these brave and courageous girls are really just kids who want nothing more than to play with their dog, jump on their trampoline, or simply laugh together.
Sharing Their Story
The Herrin family are no strangers to the public eye. In addition to their appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Erin runs a blog, on which she frequently uploads reports on Kendra and Maliyah’s health, family photos, and general updates. Erin has also written her own book, titled “When Hearts Conjoin.” The book, which was released in 2009, shares the Herrins’ story from Erin’s perspective. Kendra and Maliyah also now have their own Facebook page, where they share photos, videos, and updates.
Taking Everything In Stride
In one recent blog entry, Erin wrote, “Kendra and Maliyah are so HAPPY!! They have so many people that love them so much. Their smiles light up a room. They have taught me so much about being who I need to. And taking one day at a time. It took them years to recover from their separation surgery, and it takes them sometimes weeks to recover from other surgeries and sicknesses. They take everything in stride and they move forward.”
Through all of their hardships, Kendra and Maliyah have managed to thrive thanks to their positive attitudes. Whether it was learning to crawl as babies, surviving an incredibly risky separation surgery, or learning how to walk after the operation, the girls have shown how tough they really are. “Their wills are so strong,” said Erin. “Kendra is just up and down off of her bed. It’s just amazing to us how well that they’re doing,” she explained to Oprah Winfrey.
Unfortunately, In 2015, Maliyah’s body began rejecting the kidney which her mother donated. This was a devastating blow to the Herrin family. They had been so optimistic and hopeful that both twins would be able to live a happy and healthy life. Now, their only option was to patiently wait for doctors to seek out a live kidney donor with the right medical specifications. Maliyah’s kidney transplant was an urgent matter, though. She needed to find a donor as quickly as possible.
Day By Day
The bad news about Maliyah’s failed Kidney transplant reminded Jake and Erin Herrin that both of their daughters would constantly be faced with medical problems. However, through every complication, the Herrins have remained positive and have always been optimistic about the twins’ futures. “I’m sure there will be doctors visits and surgeries for a very long time,” said Jake in an interview. “You just have to take things day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Otherwise, they can just get overwhelming.”
The Big Announcement
In April 2018, the Herrins posted some big news. After two years of waiting patiently for doctors to find a live kidney donor with very specific medical requirements, the Herrins announced that they have officially found a donor! Maliyah’s second (and hopefully final) kidney transplant is set to take place in the summer of 2018. The Herrin family couldn’t be happier or more excited about what the future has in store for both Maliyah and her twin sister Kendra!