DALLAS -- The mother of twins successfully separated after being born joined at the chest says she's looking forward to holding the babies she once thought had no chance of survival.
"I'm just so happy that they're here and they're alive and thriving. It's the best feeling in the world," Jenni Ezell said Thursday during a news conference at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas, where she was joined by husband Dave and a doctor.
Owen and Emmett Ezell were separated Saturday at the hospital after being born joined from just below the breast bone to just below the belly button on July 15. The babies shared a liver and intestines and had an about 3 inch by 5 inch area on their lower stomach that wasn't covered by skin or muscles.
"The whole pregnancy was very frightening. I didn't know what would happen. I didn't know if they would make it. It's hard as a mom to know that," Ezell said tearfully.
Dr. Clair Schwenueman, a neonatologist, said that once the boys were born, tests were done to determine exactly how many connections they had. During the nine-hour surgery, a team of surgeons separated the liver and intestines, with the most difficult part being the separation of a shared blood vessel in the liver.
"At this point they're as stable as we could hope for post-operatively," Schwenueman said.
Conjoined twins are rare, occurring in about one in 50,000 to one in 200,000 deliveries, the doctor said.
The Ezells, both 31, discovered the twins they were expecting were conjoined on March 1, when she was 17 weeks pregnant. The couple, who now live in Dallas but lived in Oklahoma at the time, said their doctor there gave them little hope the babies would survive.
"We didn't think they had a chance, that they weren't going to make it at all," she said. "So we decided to abort and it was the hardest decision that a mother has to make."
The Dallas clinic where they went for the abortion had concerns that her scar from previous cesarean sections might tear and sent her to Medical City for a consultation about the scar tissue. During that visit, a doctor unexpectedly told the parents that there was hope for their unborn boys, Jenni Ezell said.
"I could not contain my joy," said Ezell, who added that since they weren't even looking for a second opinion, she felt that through the whole process God was leading them to "exactly where we needed to be."
The boys weighed a combined 11 pounds, 15 ounces at birth. Hospital officials say the twins had grown to more than 16 pounds when the surgery was done.
Schwenueman said he doesn't know yet when they might be able to leave the hospital. The boys are still connected to breathing machines and must heal from the surgery, he said.
Also, he said, they'll face at least one or two more surgeries in the future for the openings below their chests, which are currently covered with a mesh as doctors try to promote skin growth.
In the meantime, Ezell is already planning their first birthday party and getting excited about the boys' brothers -- a 7 year old and 16 month old -- seeing them now that they're separated.