DALLAS -- "It's the most wonderful feeling," says proud mother Jenni Ezell. "I'm so happy that they're here, and they're alive and thriving. It's the best feeling in the world for a mom."
Jenni and Dave Ezell couldn't hold back tears of relief and smiles of joy at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Their sons, Emmett and Owen, are now six weeks old and doing well.
They came into the world conjoined from the breast bone to the belly button, they shared a liver and bowels, and were born with intestines outside their bodies.
At the time of birth on July 15th, they weighed a combined 11 pounds, 15 ounces. Hospital authorities say the twins had grown to more than 16 pounds when the surgery was done last Saturday.
Conjoined twins happens in about once in every 50,000-to-200,000 deliveries, according to neonatologist Dr. Clair Schwendeman. A surgery to separate is even more rare. Sometimes, when conjoined twins share vital organs, parents must choose to save the stronger baby.
Emmett and Owen's parents were initially told the challenges their twins faced were so severe, neither would survive. In a blog, the Ezells wrote about their heartbreaking decision to end the pregnancy at 17 weeks.
"And it was the hardest decision that a mother has to make about her babies," Jenni said, through tears.
The Ezells, who lived in Oklahoma, were sent to an abortion facility in Dallas that could handle the complicated procedure. After a sonogram, the doctor delivered surprising news.
"Our doctor here basically said, 'These boys have a really good chance, this is not your only option,'" Jenni said. "We were just floored. I mean, I could not contain my joy."
This past Saturday, doctors began the nine-hour separation surgery at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas.
"The doctor told us to guard our hearts," Dave said.
A team of four physicians and countless nurses and other staff were hopeful, but there were many unknowns going into surgery.
"Actually, [during] the operation, [...] they actually defined how the connections for the digestive enzymes actually connected in," Dr. Schwendeman said. "So actually, during the operation is how they defined how they were going to connect the livers in each baby so that each of them could digest their food."
Schwendeman said two other sets of conjoined twins he's evaluated in the last decade could not be separated.
Owen and Emmett's parents now look forward to cradling their two sons -- independently. The parents have not yet been able to hold the boys because of the sensitive condition of exposed organs while they were conjoined, and now the risk of infection post separation.
"I look forward to holding them for the first time," Jenni said. "That will be a huge moment."
Emmett and Owen still face several more surgeries. But doctors say if all goes well, they will grow up with their two big brothers as normal little boys.