6-month-old conjoined twins from Va. separated at VCU

BEFORE SURGERY: A’zhari (pink bow) and A’zhiah (blue bow) gaze at the camera. (Source: Allen Jones, VCU University Relations)
BEFORE SURGERY: A’zhari (pink bow) and A’zhiah (blue bow) gaze at the camera. (Source: Allen Jones, VCU University Relations)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A 14-hour operation successfully separated six-month-old conjoined twins from Franklin at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU Monday.

A'zhari and A'zhiah Jones are now in stable condition in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where they have spent their entire lives. This the first reported successful, phased-separation surgeries of twins sharing vital organs and conjoined at the abdomen and heart like the Jones girls, according to Dr. David Lanning, surgeon-in-chief at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

"We're very optimistic that the twins will have a full and complete recovery," said Dr. Lanning. "At this point we don't anticipate any future operations or need for any long term medications. I see the girls living full happy lives as individuals."

This isn't the first time VCU doctors have separated conjoined twins. Dr. Lanning was part of a team which separated 19-month-old twins Maria and Teresa Tapia in November 2011.

The Jones twins were joined at the chest and abdomen and shared a liver and part of their heart. A series of procedures begun last year, including the division of their liver. However, the final step began at 6:45 a.m. Monday with a 40 person team.

"While A'zhari and A'zhiah look similar to the Tapia twins from the outside, we were faced with a different set of challenges that we had to overcome as a team," Lanning said. "Despite these differences, our experience with the Tapia twins has been vitally helpful with caring for the Jones twins."

Their mother, Nachell Jones, was surprised to find out she was having twins at the 12 week mark of her pregnancy and shocked at 13 weeks to discover they were conjoined. She was admitted to VCU Medical Center at 35 weeks for observation, then gave birth on Oct. 10, at 36 weeks, through a planned cesarean section. The girls weighed 10-pounds combined.

Just 15 days later, surgeons separated the conjoined liver and closed the twins' abdomens.

"As the girls became critically ill over the second week of their lives, we had to urgently separate their conjoined liver," said Dr. Lanning. :However, complete separation at that time would almost assuredly have resulted in their deaths. A phased surgery was the optimal plan."

Four months later on Feb. 14, surgeons placed tissue expanders in the twins' abdomens. The balloon-like expanders enabled the growth of excess skin to be used for closure and reconstruction following surgery.

"The nurses are very caring and like my family. They are very supportive of me and the girls. It's like they are their own kids," said their mother, Nachell Jones. "It has been one hard journey, like a roller-coaster. Some days it's great and other days it's hard. Today is one of the great days. They are my little miracles."

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