Formerly conjoined sisters leave hospital

CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS - You could see the look of determination on little Ximena Hernandez-Torres' face.

There she was, in the rehabilitation wing of Driscoll Children's Hospital, cranking the pedals of a red tricycle. On the handle bars was a tiny Texas license plate, reading "I am loved."

"Come on, Ximena," an excited crowd of nurses cried out. "You can do it, girl!"

Not too far behind was her sister, Scarlett, stepping gingerly in a frilly pink dress with a matching hair ribbon.

Monday was big for these formerly conjoined sisters, who continue to marvel doctors some 10 months after their historic separation surgery. It was moving day — a moment their family had long prayed for.

"We've been here two years, and we've loved everybody," said their mother, Silvia Hernandez-Torres, 23. "But the family misses them."

Torres and her children are relocating to Brownsville to be with family. They had been staying at the Ronald McDonald House since Ximena and Scarlett's discharge in May.

Physicians, nurses and other medical staff held a farewell party for the siblings at the hospital. Many of them, still wearing their scrubs and lab coats, cooed as they snapped photos of the sisters with their cellphones.

"It's bittersweet for us all," lead surgeon Dr. Haroon Patel said. "We've known these girls before they were even born."

Formerly conjoined siblings Ximena and Scarlett Hernandez-Torres are moving to Brownsville, nearly 10 months after their historic separation surgery in Corpus Christi. Chris Ramirez

Ximena, Scarlett and a third sister, Catalina, were born at Corpus Christi Medical Center Bay Area Hospital on May 16, 2015. They were delivered by cesarean section at 10:52 p.m., just a day short of 34 weeks.

Catalina was born with no serious health issues. Her sisters, however, were born connected at the pelvis by a "skin bridge," sharing a rectum, intestines and an umbilical cord.

Eventually they were moved to Driscoll, where they received round-the-clock treatment for months as physicians mapped out plans for their separation surgery. The historic 12-hour procedure, on April 12, involved more than a dozen physicians and another two dozen nurses, technicians and medical professionals.

Ximena and Scarlett each must wear a brace, from their hips to their feet, until their abdominal cores develop. The girls will need more surgeries as they get older and their bodies strengthen, Patel said. Many of the Driscoll physicians who participated in the sisters' surgery also have offices in Brownsville, so they can get treatment as they need it. Though it is likely they will return to Corpus Christi for more serious procedures.

Ximena will need additional attention because the separation procedure left her with just one kidney. Torres said she expects Ximena and Scarlett will undergo reconstructive surgery at the pelvis within two years.

"We will miss everyone here," Torres said. "People really loved us. And we loved them."

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