Maliyah and Kendra Herrin, from Salt Lake City, Utah, were born conjoined twins: connected at the torso and sharing a pelvis, liver, large intestine, one single kidney, and two legs. Thirteen years later, the sisters are thriving with two separate bodies, about to finish their junior year of high school. They recently starred in a biographical BBC Three documentary.
When the girls were born, their parents, Jake and Erin, faced a difficult decision: either to surgically split the two and risk their lives, or to leave them conjoined, a decision they might regret later in life. When the girls turned 3, their parents decided to go through with the 26-hour surgery, which separated the girls at the torso and left them with one leg each.
“We don’t really remember the pain of the surgery, but we do know that we recovered quickly,” Maliyah tells Health. “Almost two weeks after the surgery, we were already jumping around our beds.”
Because they shared a kidney while conjoined, Maliyah got the kidney, while Kendra went on dialysis for nine months until their mother donated a kidney. Ten years after the transplant, Kendra’s body rejected her mother’s kidney, and she was back on dialysis. Kendra was placed on an organ donor waitlist for a year and a half until an anonymous donor miraculously donated their kidney. Maliyah has also had to have a number of kidney transplants since the operation.
The girls have had to go through plenty of follow-up procedures throughout the years, including having their spines straightened, but the two are living a healthy, happy life today. While they don’t have too many memories of the surgery itself, they’re glad that their parents made the decision to separate them.
“We’re both so glad that we’re separated,” says Kendra. “I think we’re closer now that we’re separated because I think if we were still conjoined we’d fight all the time, because we’d always be together.”
“We’re really close still,” she adds. “We have the same friends and we do everything together.”
Today, the girls get around by using rolling chairs around the house and walkers while navigating the halls of their high school. They agree that because they have almost always had one leg each, they’re used to getting around and adapting to any situation.
The twins are using their story to help raise awareness of organ donation. “We wanted to share our experiences because there’s a lot of heartache that comes with it, and we want to support other families dealing with a similar situation,” Kendra says. “We’re also trying to raise awareness for organ donation because we know how hard it is since we both had kidney transplants.”
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