Halfway through her pregnancy, Erin and her husband Jake were given shocking news: A routine ultrasound discovered that they were having twins...and they were conjoined.
After a difficult pregnancy, Kendra and Maliyah were born, joined at the pelvis and chest. They shared a large intestine, bladder, liver and single kidney. Each sister has two arms, but just one leg.
Erin and Jake considered several medical options, including an operation to separate the girls shortly after birth, which only one was likely to survive. Jake and Erin decided to keep their babies conjoined and let them both live. "We felt that whatever happens is meant to happen," Jake says.
Kendra and Maliyah adapted to their limitations, learning to crawl, stand and even walk! Erin says that life with conjoined twins made certain everyday things difficult. "Everything had to be specially made," she says. "Grandma Patsy made all their clothes for them. ... Another challenge was finding car seats that fit them and strollers."
As they grew older, Jake and Erin knew that the girls couldn't stay conjoined forever. If Kendra and Maliyah continued their lives conjoined, their shared kidney could eventually fail. Still, there was a chance the twins might not survive a separation surgery.
Erin and Jake made the decision to let doctors separate their conjoined twin daughters when they were 4 years old. "If we could keep them like this forever, I think we would," Jake says. "But they're going to get bigger and it's going to be harder for them."
Erin and Jake tried to prepare their daughters for life after surgery. For the first time in their lives, Kendra and Maliyah would be able to be alone. "We talked to them for years about it, what it was going to be like," Erin says. "I think we take for granted being able to go in separate rooms and being able to be by ourselves."
They brought Kendra and Maliyah to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The first step in preparing for the separation was to implant 17 balloons under the girls' skin to stretch it out enough to perform the operation.
Six weeks later, a team of eight surgeons, 16 nurses and two anesthesiologists, led by Dr. Rebecca Meyers, performed the 26-hour surgery. Doctors say this high-risk procedure—separating conjoined twins who shared a kidney—had never been done before. Everyone was anxious.
After 16 hours, Erin and Jake got the news. Doctors had successfully separated Kendra and Maliyah. They were starting to reconstruct their once single body into two new ones.
The girls' reactions after the separation procedure surprised their
parents. "They took it so much better than we ever imagined that they would,"
Erin says. "We didn't think that they would be so happy. We thought it would be
shocking for them and hard."
The twins now go to preschool twice a week. Erin and Jake say the girls' outgoing personalities draw other kids to them and they have many friends. They also spend time at home with their 7-year-old big sister, Courtney, and their younger twin brothers, Justin and Austin.
The girls still face more difficult medical procedures. Each girl has one leg, and neither uses a prosthetic. Kendra has the kidney that she once shared with her sister. Left without a kidney, Maliyah requires dialysis three times a week. Erin plans to donate one of her kidneys to her daughter once she gets clearance from her doctor.
Despite Kendra and Maliyah's historic separation surgery, Erin says she doesn't wish anything had been different. "It made us stronger as a family," she says. "It made our marriage stronger and it made us realize what the most important things in life are, and it's not the material possessions that you have. It's your family and the happiness and the health that you have."
Find out more about how the Herrin twins are doing at
Early one morning, 11-year-old Schneider and his mother rushed out of their home in Queens, New York, to a relative's house. Schneider arrived just in time to witness his aunt giving birth. "I was walking down the stairs and then she started screaming. I ran to see and I saw the baby coming out," Schneider says.
Although his mother was frozen in a state of shock, Schneider rushed into action and caught the baby before it fell to the floor. Using the skills he learned in his sixth-grade pre-nursing class at Intermediate School 109 in Queens, he diagnosed his newborn cousin's condition. "I saw that his face was red and it means that it had good blood flow. Then it started crying so I knew that it had good lungs," Schneider says.
After his uncle brought a pair of scissors, Schneider cut and tied the umbilical cord. The family then called for an ambulance.
"Because I helped bring him into the world, I feel that I have a special connection to him," the possible future Dr. Schneider says. "I think one day he'll be just like me and maybe follow in my footsteps in becoming a doctor."
Patrick was born without eyes and with a birth defect that won't allow him to straighten his arms and legs. At first, his parents say they were devastated. "A lot of dreams died that we had for our firstborn," his father—also named Patrick—says. "Dreams of playing baseball with my son or watching my son run the football."
Patrick's parents soon discovered something miraculous about their son. At just 2 years old, he started playing the piano and was able to take requests. As Patrick grew, so did his musical talent. In addition to his piano skills, Patrick also plays the trumpet.
Today Patrick attends the University of Louisville, but he's not there alone. Every evening his father works the graveyard shift at UPS, finishing at dawn. This leaves him enough time to rest a few hours before heading out to help his son at school.
Patrick asked to play in the University of Louisville pep band. But one of the band directors had a different idea...he asked Patrick to join the marching band. "I thought, 'Can you not see he's blind and in a wheelchair?'" Patrick's dad says.
That never stopped Patrick before and it didn't this time either. In the fall of 2006, Patrick and his dad became the only two-person marching band member in college football. "My dad is a wonderful man having to sacrifice a lot. That's a miracle that he's still able to do what he does and gives me the message once again that if he can do it, I can do it anytime," Patrick says.
"It's not a sacrifice," Patrick's father says. "There's no sacrifice in spending time with my son. It's an honor, it's a blessing."
Patrick says when the director asked him to join the marching band, the decision was easy. "I knew it was going to be awesome. I've always loved an audience and the applause," he says. "There would be around 45,000 screaming and applauding fans, all enjoying the band and looking forward to a big game."
Once devastated by the news of their son's disabilities, Patrick's parents are now inspired by his seemingly endless possibilities. "When Patrick was born, [I thought], 'Why us, what did we do? Why do we have a blind child that's confined to the wheelchair,'" Patrick's father says. "Now it's like, 'Wow, why us? What a gift this young man is.'"
Patrick says his blindness isn't really a disability at all. "Sighted people, they can see a person's hair length or the clothes they wear or their skin color. With me, certain words like 'black' or 'white' are adjectives that have no meaning whatsoever," he says. "I just see the love within a person."
It was Oprah's favorite giveaway ever
when every member of her audience received $1,000 to spend on a stranger. Those lucky people spread kindness across the country and inspired thousands of others to do the same.
After watching the follow-up show, Sufiy decided to take people from the local shelter to see The Pursuit of Happyness
, a film that holds a strong personal meaning for her. The movie is inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a single father who once lived on the streets and now runs a multi-million dollar corporation. Just five years ago, Sufiy says she was one step from being homeless. "I was severely depressed, unhappy with where I was in life," she says. "I could not find a job. I had to go to the [YWCA] because I had nowhere else to live."
Today, Sufiy is employed and wants to spread the movie's message of hope. Every week, she and her husband take people living at the Faith Mission Homeless Shelter in Columbus, Ohio. The experience has changed lives. "One guy said I know that this is a temporary situation for me and I've always felt that, but this movie made me believe it," Sufiy says. "And when he said that, I was like, 'Oh, he got it. He got it. He's right. This is temporary.'"
In Los Angeles, Keith and Mariela were so inspired by Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge that they started their own challenge. They gave $1,000 to 20 sets of friends and family members—a total of $20,000! "We had an inspiration from this show of a new way that we could give that could really, really help people out," Keith says.
Mariela's Uncle Mario and Aunt Vanda gave their challenge money to a
single mother named Monique, who had three children and two jobs. She had just
been at the hospital and used the money to fix her car and buy her children
holiday gifts. "[Mario and Vanda] were actually my guardian angel," Monique
The holiday cheer didn't stop there. Mike and Andrea surprised an unsuspecting shopper and paid for her entire cart of gifts—a total of $200. The shopper, Debbie, was so moved by their random act of kindness, she also decided to "pay it forward." She visited a local utilities office and paid $100 toward two hardship accounts. "The whole thing felt just so, so incredible," Debbie says.
Mariela and Keith say they never imagined giving $20,000 away could feel so good. "It's the biggest joy to us. Not just to give to people and affect their lives, but we gave our friends that joy, too," Mariela says.
Find more stories of the good that
came from Keith and Mariela's challenge at TheGivingChallenge.com.
Oprah's been saving her own good news for last! "I am thrilled about our
next Book Club selection. It is written by one of my living heroes, Mr. Sidney
Poitier. It's called The Measure of a Man," Oprah says.
And there's more good
news: To honor this special author, Oprah's going to host a once-in-a-lifetime
dinner party with Sidney Poitier.
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