Against the Odds
Oprah met her first two little miracle guests when they were just 4 years old. Conjoined twins Kendra and Maliyah Herrin were born sharing a large intestine, bladder, liver and single kidney. Each sister had two arms, but just one leg. The survival rate for conjoined twins is extremely low, but the girls exceeded all expectations and even learned to crawl—something doctors said might never happen.
Erin and Jake made the decision to let doctors separate their conjoined twin daughters when they were 4 years old. After a 26-hour surgery, Erin and Jake got the good news—the doctors had successfully separated their daughters.
Erin says things are going really well for the girls. Each girl has one kidney—Kendra has the one she once shared with her sister, and Maliyah was given a kidney from her mother. "Especially after Maliyah got her kidney from me, things went a lot better," Erin says. However, both girls still face a long road ahead and will need back surgery to straighten their spines. Three weeks later they will be fitted for prosthetic legs. "That's a big milestone," Erin says.
Photo: AP/World Wide Photos
Lin survived the devastating earthquake in Sichuan on May 12, 2008, that claimed the lives of 20 of his schoolmates. After freeing himself from the debris, Lin risked his own life by going back into the rubble and carrying two of his unconscious friends to safety.
When asked why he took such a dangerous risk, Lin simply replied that he was the hall monitor and it was his job.
When Cody was born, his parents, Tina and Mike, immediately knew something wasn't right. "The doctors got very quiet. The nurses got very quiet," Mike says. "I did notice that his legs looked different—they didn't straighten out." Mike was told their baby boy had an incurable disease and wouldn't make it through the day. "That's when Mike had told me that we needed to mourn the loss of our son," Tina says.
Those weren't the only expectations Cody surpassed. "Cody has really done everything that they said he wouldn't do," Mike says. "He wasn't supposed to be able to walk. Well, he walks—he runs. He wasn't supposed to be able to talk, [because] he only has one vocal cord. He just goes on forever."
Cody truly can do whatever he sets his mind to—and now that he's on a swim team, a certain Olympic superstar better watch out! "Michael Phelps, I'm coming," Cody says. "I'm gonna race you!"
Other than his athletic abilities, there is one thing Cody wants the world to know. "That I'm special," he says.
Mike says Cody's spirit is contagious to everyone he meets. "He's always had that about him," he says. "He just walks into a room and absolutely takes over somehow with his personality." Cody even brightens the day of the disabled veterans he's met with who have lost their limbs. "He's never had his limbs, and he's just smiling, bouncing through the room, and just wants to race everybody."
Photo: AP/World Wide Photos
Milagros was born with a rare genetic disorder called sirenomelia, also known as "mermaid syndrome." Her legs were born fused together and she had no external genitalia. Most babies with this condition die during birth or before they are born.
When her parents, Ricardo and Sara, first saw their newborn, they were afraid they had been cursed. "When I finally saw her and saw her little legs, I was shaking and crying," Sara says. "All I could do was cry."
Ricardo and Sara refused to give up hope for their daughter and even named her Milagros, meaning "miracles" in Spanish. Despite the odds against her, Milagros lived to see her first birthday. But without surgery to separate her legs, doctors said she wouldn't live much longer. After a five-hour surgery, Ricardo and Sara, along with the rest of the world watching on live TV, received the miraculous news—Milagros survived the rare and dangerous operation.
"It's an amazing project because you can read and learn about those miracles and heroes—babies, children—you can learn about those stories, and all the proceeds go for needy children and sick children," she says. "It was a blessing."
When he was 12 years old, Donald lived through one of the most destructive disasters in American history, Hurricane Katrina. As the water filled up his house, Donald climbed on top of the refrigerator, and his mom got on the counter. "The more the water rose, the more we panicked," he says. "The windows shattered from the wind. The water's getting up high where we can't touch the floor anymore. My mom didn't know how to swim, and I didn't know how to swim."
Eventually, Donald's mom lost her grip on a curtain rod and drowned. In that moment, life without his mother seemed so unbearable that Donald decided to end his life. "I completely gave up. I decided to, you know, just sink to the bottom," he says. "I didn't hold my breath, because I just wanted it to happen as quick as possible."
Donald says as water began to fill his lungs, his will to survive took over and he paddled toward the only light he could see—a shattered window. "I think some spiritual force or God shattered that window as a final attempt of escape," he says.
Donald paddled out, cutting himself on the shards of glass sticking out, and climbed to the roof of his house. For the next 13 hours, he stayed on roofs above the flood line, waiting until help arrived.
On the roofs of houses, Donald says he and another young man he met waited for their rescue. They were able to signal for help with the light of the other man's cell phone.
After their meeting in Montreal for An Incredible Journey with Celine Dion: 12 Heroes Among Us, Celine says Donald's story of survival is an inspiration. "I wish for my son to have the strength that you have," she tells him.
"Dear Eliot: Right now you are two months from being born," Matt wrote in one letter. "Doctors tell us that you won't likely make it to birth. Your mom and I are praying against that. We're praying for healing. We are praying for nothing less than a miracle. You're our first child, and the day of your birth couldn't come sooner."
Against the odds, Eliot survived his birth. "You are already a miracle to us," Matt wrote that day.
Every day that Eliot lived, he beat the odds. The median lifespan for children with Trisomy 18 is just five to 15 days—but Eliot just kept on surviving.
Matt and Ginny's letters to their infant son continued for 99 precious days. They turned their letters and literally thousands of photos of Eliot into a video that has now been seen nearly a million times on YouTube.
Watch their moving video celebrating Eliot's life.
Matt says their tribute to Eliot started as a blog, which they used to keep friends and family updated on his status even before he was born. "Once he was here, we just took a lot of pictures and took a lot of video, and we knew we wanted to put that together in some way to tell the story of his life."
"We knew from day to day that we had that day," Ginny says. "I would tell Matt a lot: 'I'll be sad later. I'm going to enjoy every second now.' So even though his diagnosis never changed, we just decided we were going to enjoy every second that we had."
Celine is moved by that idea. "Life imposes things on you that you can't control, but you still have the choice of how you're going to live through this," she says. "Once you know the diagnosis and it's not good, then you make the best of it."
"We celebrate you," Oprah says. "What an inspiration your family has been to the world."
Celine left Charice speechless with an offer to perform a duet at New York's famed Madison Square Garden. "I was a puddle when that was over," Oprah says. "I was thinking, 'That is a miracle that this child grew up drawing pictures of you with herself imagining this moment—and then that moment happened!"
Celine says in spending time with Charice, she realized how comfortable the young singer really is performing. "She rehearsed the song three times and each time she sang the song differently, and it proved to all of us that she's very comfortable. Because when somebody is very not sure, they sing the same. They learn the same stuff. They go by the book, and they don't move," Celine says. "She's not like that. She's extremely talented, but she's got this sense of what it takes as well to be flexible and to have the momentum."
In all his years, one thing about René-Charles has always remained the same—Celine and her husband, René, have never cut his hair. "I've asked him many times, 'Do you want me to trim your hair?' And he says, 'No, Mom, I like my hair like that.' We've talked about it many, many times."
Celine says she doesn't care about what René-Charles looks like, only that he grows up well. "I prefer that he has long hair, he's succeeding in school, he's doing well, he's a great human being, he's adaptable...than to have a kid with short hair who's selfish and a brat and he's not happy," she says. "We kind of decide as a family what's good for us, because what's good for us might not be good for that family. And what's good for that family might not be good for us."
Celine says she and René have thought about having another baby once her current tour ends. "I would love to be blessed again," she says. "Hopefully we are pregnant and are parents again. If not, that's fine. That's fine. We have a beautiful child."
Watch Celine sing the title track from her new CD, My Love.
Meet some of the world's most talented kids!