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Indiana native leads surgery to separate conjoined twins

The medical team waited 11 months until Addy and Lily were strong enough for the 10-hour surgery to separate them.

PHILADELPHIA — Two newborn girls, conjoined at the abdomen and chest, are now separated. It's all thanks to a team of surgeons at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 

The heartwarming story was recently featured on the "TODAY Show." The surgeon leading that life-changing operation grew up in Indiana.

The story began with a surprise ultrasound in the summer of 2020. It showed Maggie and Dom Altobelli were expecting not only twins, but conjoined twins.

"That's OK. We'll just separate them," Maggie said. "The doctor said, 'Do your research, see what's in store for you, because this is a very long, long journey.'"

The Altobelli's journey led the Chicago couple to Dr. Holly Hedrick at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 

"It's a special case, a special circumstance and a special, special family," Hedrick said.

Credit: Altobelli family

The lead surgeon, an Indiana University graduate from Salem, Indiana, and hundreds of team members began working before the girls were even born. 

"A lot of the difficulty is the days and months leading up to it," Hedrick said.

Maggie and Dom welcomed Addy and Lily on Nov. 18, 2020. 

"It's many, many, many people working together. It's sort of amazing sometimes when you see babies being born and there are 30 people there to receive one little baby. In this case, you can just double everything or even quadruple," Hedrick said. "We iron out the plan so that that day, things can go really seamlessly."

Credit: Altobelli family

The team had to wait until the sisters were strong enough. Eleven months later, it was time to separate them. The surgery lasted ten hours. 

"You're just feeling nervous until it's done and you know everyone's safe," Hedrick said. "When those beds pull apart and there's two babies and they're separate, and I think everybody feels it. It's a special moment."

The rest of the country thought so, too. 

"It was a positive story of people working together and making something wonderful happen," Hedrick said.

Credit: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

She and the Altobellis recently shared the miraculous story on the "TODAY Show."

Ever since then, Lily and Addy are becoming more and more independent. 

"I got a video the other day. They're starting to notice each other a little bit more, put their hands all over each other, interact with each other," Hedrick said. "We totally expect them to be running around in kindergarten and nobody realize what has happened to them. That would be our goal."

Credit: Altobelli family

She'll see to it. 

Hedrick told 13News, their bond is forever. 

"No question. Absolutely," she said.

"There's so much good in the world, and that's what Maggie and I are thankful for. We got to see the best in the world and the good in the world," Dom said.

Hedrick earned her bachelor’s degree at Indiana University. She earned her medical degree at Duke University School of Medicine.

During her time at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, she's been involved in around ten of 28 successful operations to separate conjoined twins.

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