Maliyah and Kendra Herrin traded in their side-by-side beds in Primary Children's intensive care unit for adjacent rooms in the children's surgical unit Monday.
Exactly three weeks after a team of surgeons made the first cuts that would divide the girls, who were born joined at mid-torso, they're neighbors — but still best friends, their father said.
"Their spirits are very high," dad Jake Herrin said during a media briefing outside the hospital Monday afternoon. "They're happy as can be."
In fact, the playful girls, 4, passed part of the morning squirting dad, the ICU nurses and each other with water-filled syringes.
Herrin said the most surprising thing about the post-surgical journey — which he described as "emotional," "spiritual" and miraculous" — has been the lack of surprises. "Thinking back, it seemed like getting to this point would be forever." Instead, he said, it has gone fast. "I thought there would be bigger bumps in the road."
The bumps he referred to include problems Maliyah had with some of her medication, forcing doctors to make adjustments, and the need to replace her dialysis catheter and take her back into surgery once to clean her wounds, which are now healing nicely. She was quiet and not feeling well for much of her stay in intensive care, while Kendra was feeling better and was playful much sooner.
Friday, Jake and his wife, Erin, each held Maliyah. "I waited for that moment for a long time — since they were born — to hold them separately," Jake said, adding that his mom, Patsy Herrin, wept when she cuddled Maliyah.
They haven't been able to hold Kendra yet because her wounds are still too delicate. When the surgery was completed Aug. 8, lead surgeon Dr. Rebecka Meyers said they'd been worried they would not have enough skin to close Kendra's wounds. They had to stretch it tight, she said at the time.
Each girl still has a feeding tube and a device called a "wound vac" that basically sucks up the old skin cells and fluids to promote healing. Maliyah is also on dialysis every other day because the kidney they shared is Kendra's and she lost access to it when they were separated.
The move brings the girls back to the part of the hospital where they lived in the weeks leading up to the marathon operation. They became in-patients when doctors implanted 17 balloons that were filled weekly with small amounts of saline to stretch their skin. Maliyah's new room is the room they shared then, while Kendra is next door. Jake Herrin said he thought the girls would be happy to see their old nurses and be in that familiar area, with fewer machines attached to monitor them, and more freedom to move a bit.
Best of all, the move means the girls can see their baby brothers, 14-month-old twins Justin and Austin, who were too young to visit in intensive care. Sister Courtney, 6, has been a regular visitor since the surgery, but now they'll all be able to play more. Some of their young playmates may be able to visit soon, as well. And the hospital staff has created a play area just for them.
No one's sure when the girls will go home. They're still recuperating and their appetites need to improve, Jake said.
Since their story has been printed and broadcast worldwide, Kendra and Maliyah have received what Jake described as an "endless flood" of mail from well wishers as far away as Australia. Interest in the family's Web page, Herrintwins.com, has been so high that it had 17 million hits in a 10-day period, was hacked at least once and has been knocked offline by heavy traffic a few times.
The girls still have a lot of adjustment before them, including simply becoming used to being two individuals. They've comforted each other, compromised on activities and been completely aware of how the other felt their entire lives. Now they're joking that when they get home they can put on clothes specially made to fit the conjoined twins and pretend to be together again when they miss it, which they sometimes do. The girls think that's funny.
But there's some wistfulness to the joke, Jake admitted.
He said few people are lucky enough to see a bond like the one the girls shared as conjoined twins. "It's something maybe even identical twins don't have and we're going to miss it a lot."
Going home is the next goal, he said.