After a harrowing separation surgery and a long recovery in two different hospitals, formerly conjoined twins Eva and Erika Sandoval made the journey back to their Antelope home Wednesday afternoon in separate car seats.
The 2-year-old sisters, born conjoined from the chest down, were separated Dec. 6 at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. During a 17-hour procedure, a team of 50 medical staff split their shared liver, pelvis and digestive system and removed the third leg they once shared. Each girl now has a full set of organs and one leg of her own.
After months in the Bay Area and then at UC Davis Medical Center, parents Aida and Arturo will settle into a new routine with their two daughters – one with morning walks in a two-seat stroller and bedtime stories in individual beds. It’s their first time living together in their suburban home since October, when Aida and the twins moved into a Palo Alto apartment to be closer to the twins’ care team at Stanford.
Father Arturo, a heavy equipment mechanic, said he’s looking forward to hearing the girls scream “Papa!” when he comes home from work each night. Aida, a former airline customer service agent, said she can’t wait to see them crawl in two different directions.
Shortly after entering the house, Aida and Arturo placed Eva and Erika on the living room floor, where they each grabbed a toy.
“Erika has definitely come out of her shell since the separation,” Aida said. “Eva has gotten a little more needy, I think.”
The weeks following the surgery were tenuous, as both girls staved off infection. During the procedure, reconstructive surgeons patched the gaping wounds in the girls’ abdomens by stretching excess skin from their spare leg, torsos and backs.
Erika, who was the smaller and more sickly twin when they were conjoined, healed more quickly than Eva and was discharged from Stanford on Feb. 13, though she was readmitted on March 4 due to vomiting. Both girls were officially released from the hospital on March 10 and transported to UC Davis Medical Center, where they have been undergoing physical therapy. They left the Sacramento facility Wednesday afternoon.
The twins seem to remember navigating the world in one body, Aida said. Recently, Eva asked for socks for both of her feet, and Aida had to gently correct her, telling her she had just one foot, like her sister. Eva still asserts that “Erika took it,” their mother said.
Aida said she always believed the girls would come through, even when things got hard. Aida’s premature delivery, when she was in her mid-40s, was extremely risky, and their separation surgery carried a 30 percent chance of death for either or both twins.
“I did believe that, even though I couldn’t picture them in my womb, they were going to be two little toddlers,” Aida said. “Now that we’re here, it’s amazing. We’ve been waiting two years for this.”
The road ahead will involve at-home physical and occupational therapy, as well as reconstructive surgery for their abnormally curved spines.
Their care team is doubtful the girls will be able to use prosthetic legs because they each lack a hip joint, but they’re receiving body braces from Shriners Hospitals for Children on Stockton Boulevard to help them sit, Aida said. The girls will also get customized wheelchairs to help them get around, she said.
At a recent therapy session at UC Davis, each girl used the muscles in her own leg to scoot, crawl and climb with assistance from therapists.
Erika also used her hands to support herself on a raised play mat while physical therapist Rachel Hammond supported her midsection. The 2-year-old bobbed enthusiastically to the Mickey Mouse tunes playing in the background, her leg bending and straightening to the beat as her tiny head flailed. The goal is for the girls to be able to mount and dismount a wheelchair on their own and walk with a crutch or other device, Hammond said.
“I foresee both of them being busybodies, just given their progress until now,” Hammond said. “They surprise me every day. They’re changing and evolving and trying new things.”
How to help
Donations for the Sandoval family can be made at www.youcaring.com, "Sandoval Twins Medical Donation Account."
The family will also hold a six-course meal and wine-pairing benefit on April 29 at the Linde Lane Tea Room, 140 N. Jackson St., in Dixon. Tickets are $100 per person. Call Tim Gorsuch at 916-719-9518 for more information.