The Conjoined Herrin Twins: Their Miraculous Story and What They Look Like Today
Kendra and Maliyah Herrin were born closer than most siblings (literally). The girls were born conjoined, and from the very start their lives were basically a miracle!
Their parents would be forced to make a very daunting decision years after the girls were born which would change the course of the Herrin twins’ lives forever. Their story is one of strength and inspiration and what they look like today will completely shock you!
Kendra and Maliyah Herrin: Miraculous From the Start
Jake and Erin Herrin had the twins on February 26, 2002 in their home town of Salt Lake City, Utah. The girls were born as Ischiopagus/Omphalopagus conjoined twins, meaning they were connected at their abdomens.
This also meant they shared a pelvis, a kidney, and a liver. Each twin had control over one of their legs. Their condition was immensely rare and the fact that they had even come to full term was something of a miracle.
Survivors From the Start
Many conjoined twins do not survive Utero due to the host of health complications that often accompanies them. And, it is a rare condition affecting only one in every 200,000 births.
Since the Herrin twins shared many vital organs, doctors did not actually think they would survive their first 24 hours. However, Kendra and Maliyah proved to be survivors right from the start.
Their Parents Were Faced With an Impossible Decision
While it was clear that the girls were fighters since they had defied the odds right from birth, there were still complications due to the fact that they were conjoined. For the first three years of their lives they lived as conjoined babies.
But, health complications were sure to arise if they continued into adulthood conjoined. Their parents were left with 2 options: Let the girls stay conjoined or go through with the surgery to separate them.
They Were Terrified
Jake and Erin felt paralyzed by the decision at hand. If they allowed the girls to remain conjoined, they might regret the division later in life if major health issues arise for one or both of their daughters.
On the other hand, no parent wants to put their child through surgery at any age, let alone when they are babies! It felt like they had no good options.
Making the Impossible Decision
Fortunately, the Herrin parents had medical experts on their side. Surgical teams are able to successfully separate conjoined twins, but the Herrins were not eager to allow their two 4-year-old daughters to undergo such invasive surgery.
Erin explained, “We went to a lot of different doctors, psychologists, anything I could take them to just to make sure that they were ready and it didn’t harm them… You have to make sure it’s the right thing for them”. And there was one remaining factor that really made the decision for them.
The Kidney Was Going to Be a Major Problem
The young Maliyah and Kendra shared multiple organs, the kidney was the one that would pose the greatest threat to the girls’ health. One kidney cannot sustain two individuals forever.
So, while there was a risk either way, the Herrins decided that they would do the surgery. They felt it was the best opportunity to give their daughters a long and healthy life.
How to Explain The Decision to Their Daughters
Now that the decision was made, they faced the difficult challenge of explaining to their daughters what this meant for them. Maliyah later explained on her YouTube channel: “We were only three when my parents talked to us about separating us… we understood what it meant but we didn’t understand the risks”.
The girls were too young to really understand the implications of surgery. They have since explained that their parents just told them everything would be okay and that they were going to “cut-apart day”.
The Months Leading Up to ‘Cut-Apart Day’
Erin and Jake started to prepare their daughters the best they could for surgery. They had wonderful nurses who made them feel as comfortable as possible.
The girls recall that they were “treated like royalty” at the hospital before they were separated. They had their own playroom and the nurses even gave them their own nurse badges. This care helped the girls feel at ease before the momentous day.
Not a Simple Surgery
The procedure that was required to safely separate the twins was not a simple one. The girls were connected by their organs and their skin so the doctors had to come up with a plan that involved loosening their skin to allow for access.
Maliyah explained, “Every week we would get tissue expanders which were like little balloons that you get placed under the skin so that the skin stretches so that we would have enough skin to get closed”. Despite all the preparation, the doctors couldn’t guarantee that the procedure would be successful.
Doing What Good Parents Do
In the final week before surgery, the Herrin parents went all out to make it special for the girls. They wanted to make the most of every moment, because there really was no guarantee that the girls would be okay.
They did lots of family stuff! They spent their days by the pool and took family trips to fun places like the zoo. But after all the fun, teh day finally came to bring the girls to the hospital. Everything would soon change.
The Day Was Upon Them
Finally, the girls were in the hospital and being prepped for the procedure. Erin and Jake were nervous wrecks but they were grateful for all the nurses and doctors who were helping to make it the most comfortable experience possible for their daughters.
Kendra remembers that on the day of surgery “everyone broke down crying”. As the girls were rolled toward the surgery room the family could not contain their emotions any longer.
The Scavenger Hunt
To protect the girls as much as possible the nurses had them do a scavenger hunt in the hospital as they were being rolled to surgery. Kendra later explained that they “were finding numbers around the hospital leading to the operating room”.
When they got to room 12 it was time to go in for the operation. Jake and Erin gave their girls final kisses and hugs before they were rolled out of sight. This surgery would change the course of their lives forever.
Complications During Surgery
Apparently, the surgery was actually only supposed to last an hour, but the operation ended up taking a whopping 26 hours to complete. 6 surgeons and 25 support staff participated to make sure the girls were separated safely.
Making sure the girls were effectively separated at their torso and both had control of one leg was no easy feat. And the recovery was difficult as well. They had to spend 3 months in the hospital following the surgery to ensure they were healing properly and that they would be set to live long, healthy lives!
Their Support System Carried Them Through
Luckily, the girls had an amazing support system, not only in their family, but in their fans as well! The gris had garnered fans from people in Salt Lake City and elsewhere who had heard of their story.
They even got fan mail while they were recovering! Maliyah explained that the twins even kept some of the amazing letters that they received when they were still in the hospital. After a few months they were able to leave the hospital, but that didn’t mean the journey was over, especially for Maliyah.
Maliyah’s Kidney Complications
The doctors were faced with a difficult decision when separating the girls: They had to give the kidney to one of the twins. Kendra got the kidney while Maliyah had to go on dialysis for 9 months until their mom was able to donate her kidney.
However, 10 years after her mom donated the kidney Maliyah’s body rejected it and had to be put back on dialysis. The family was unsure of what the next few months would hold and they didn’t know how long Maliyah wod survive the dialysis treatments.
Another Miracle From an Anonymous Donor
Dialysis was on the waitlist for organ donations and it appeared she would be on dialysis for another year. Erin was so impressed at her daughter’s ability to remain positive in this difficult time.
She explained, “She took it in stride. She had friends on dialysis that passed away and she had to deal with the loss of her friends, which was really hard”. However, an anonymous donor came to the rescue and her body accepted the kidney transplant. The family was overjoyed!
Not Out of the Clear Just Yet
While her body didn’t immediately reject the kidney, placing a new organ into someone’s body comes with a host of concerns. She goes in every month to get it checked but the poor girl has still had 3 scares with the new kidney.
Luckily, she had good care around her and as we’ve already seen, the girl was a real fighter. The twins agree to this day that they are thrilled with their parents’ decision to separate them.
Adjusting to Being Separate
All twins are close, but the Herrin twins were closer than most. Can you imagine being born with someone at your side and even sharing organs with them, to then be separated? It was an adjustment for the young ladies!
But the girls enjoy having their own lives! Kendra and Maliyah explained that they would have fought all the time if they didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy their own lives separate from one another.
The Girls Have Very Different Personalities
Having their own identities is important to the girls. While they are identical twins, they don’t think they bear much of a resemblance to each other. Even more different than their looks; however, and their personalities.
Kendra seems to be more socially outgoing. Maliyah explains, “Kendra’s more outgoing if you can already tell”. But their differences do not keep them from spending time together as much as they can.
Their High School Experience
The girls really loved high school together! They have found great friends and everyone is kind to them. They sometimes find it difficult if their classes are far away as it takes them a little longer to get there than the average student.
They feel grateful that they get to enjoy a good high school experience because they know full well that not everyone gets that privilege. Their friends and teachers make the whole experience really fun.
The Day to Day
The girls had a routine that they liked to stick to when they were in highschool. They’d go to school together and spend time with their friends. Since then, they’ve moved out together and have their own place! They will switch off making dinner each night.
Their dad also brought a mobility device to the girls’ home that would make being independent much easier for them, seeing as they each only had one leg.
Being Independent at Home
As it turned out, the stool on wheels at the doctor’s office happened to be exactly what the girls needed to easily move around the house. Apparently, when they were younger, their dad had them try it out to be able to roll around the kitchen and they’ve been using them ever since.
They can use the mobility devices to get around outside of the house as well. But, if they’re going somewhere like an amusement park or the zoo, where lots of walking is required, they will take electric scooters to get around.
Their Friends Are So Proud
The Herrin twins are lucky to have such wonderful friends around them that support and love them. Maliyah stated in one of their YouTube videos: “Yes, we have one leg. Our friends don’t even care. They hardly notice”.
One of their good friends, Annabelle, explained that their friends are really in awe of the strength and resilience of Kendra and Maliyah. She explained, “They’ve just taught me so much about going through trials and accepting trials of grace and bravery”.
Their Coach is Also In Awe of the Sisters
Donna, the girls’ physical education teacher, agrees with their friends that the girls are truly an inspiration. She explained that when they first came to her class they were very timid and shy. They told Donna that their goal was to be able to walk on crutches by the end of the year (in 2019).
And with the help of their coach they were able to accomplish that goal. Having the support of those around them allowed the girls to flourish in other areas as well.
The Merrin Twins Have a YouTube Channel
The girls were encouraged by those around them to start their own YouTube channel. Since everyone felt so inspired by them in their personal lives, they felt they had an important message to share with the rest of the world.
The girls explain that they make different kinds of funny videos on their channel and they also did a video of their story. They love bringing a smile to people’s faces. Kendra explained in one of their videos, “We like making them because we’re weird and we like sharing our weirdness”. Sharing their journey on social media had a huge impact on their lives that they hadn’t expected.
Social Media Taking Off
The twins’ parents think that their presence on social media has improved the girls’ confidence. Jake stated that “it gives them something to drive them, something they’re interested in”. They started filming videos when they were teenagers.
Erin loves that the girls see their impact on others and are proud of the positivity that they are spreading through their online presence.
A Positive Outlook on Life
There’s no denying that Kendra and Maliyah had it rough right from the start, but their strength has cultivated their positive outlook on life. Kendra even joked, “The best thing about only having one leg… we only have to paint one set of toenails, so that’s really nice”.
They have even decided to devote their lives to advocacy and organizations for other people in their position. Their mom is blown away by their confidence and positivity.
Not Afraid to Speak Up
The girls intend to use their voices to speak on the importance of inclusion and advocacy. They welcome questions about their medical history so they can educate people on their experience and others who have had similar ones.
They explain that people should not be afraid to ask questions as long as they’re respectful about it. Some of the organizations they support are the Stand up for Kindness and the Orange Socks initiatives.
Accomplishments and Future Plans
In February of 2022, the girls turned 20 years old and live independent lives that are not so different from any other pair of sisters. Kendra got a job at a grocery store after high school and wants to go to school to become a medical assistant in the future.
Maliyah graduated from Davis Technical College with a degree in digital media and now works in graphic design! They look forward to continuing to grow as individuals and see what life has in store for them.