By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / director: Sohrab Mirmont
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote
Editor: Thom Johnson
Twin sisters Kendra and Maliyah Herrin share an even closer bond than most: the sisters, from Salt Lake City, Utah, were born fused together at the torso, sharing an abdomen, pelvis, liver, kidney, large intestine and two legs.
Kendra and Maliyah remained conjoined until they turned four-years-old, when their parents made the difficult decision to separate them.
Now 17-years-old, the Herrin sisters live with one leg each and say they are so thankful to their parents for deciding to go through with the surgery. Maliyah and Kendra may be identical twins but they have different personalities and their YouTube channel has been the perfect place to let their different characters shine.
Maliyah told Barcroft TV: “We are happy that our parents chose to separate us.”
Before the operation the twins had to learn to get around together, each of them controlling one of the legs.
Kendra recalls: “I just remember that I would always want to be in control so I would pretty much run over her and she would be on her head.”
Maliyah had a bald spot on her head as a result.
Kendra said: “The feeling of being attached to someone else is weird.”
When they were born, doctors told Kendra and Maliyah’s parents, Jake and Erin, that it was unlikely they would survive past 24 hours. And after the twins survived that, doctors warned it was unlikely the girls would live past eight years.
Erin told Barcroft TV: “They did tell us that we needed to sacrifice one to save the other because of their shared kidney. We just decided that that wasn’t what we wanted to do. We just knew and had the faith that whatever was going to happen, was gonna happen.”
“It wasn’t always cut and dry that we were going to separate them and that’s all that there was to it. There’s so much that goes into a decision like that. You have to make sure that you are doing the right decision for them. We went to a lot of different doctors, psychologists, anything that I could take them to just to make sure that they were ready and it wouldn’t harm them.”
The first conjoined twins sharing a kidney to be operated on, Kendra and Maliyah were in the operating room for 26 hours.
Prior to their surgery the twins admit they hadn’t thought much about the potential risks even though their parents had explained what was happening.
Kendra said: “We just called it ‘cut apart day’, we didn’t really know what it meant.
“We were afraid of every surgery though so when we went in for that surgery, I just remember crying.”
Maliyah added: “when we got separated Kendra got the kidney and I went on dialysis for nine months until my mum donated her kidney. Ten years after the kidney rejected and I went on dialysis.”
For two and a half years, dialysis dominated Maliyah’s life: she was on it three times a week, three hours at a time, before getting a new kidney transplant in 2018
She said: “I have to take a lot of medicine and I have to drink a lot of water and go to a lot of doctor appointments.”
Both sisters also suffer from scoliosis and have rods in their back as a result. They each have one leg and move around with a combination of walkers, crutches and wheely stools.
Kendra quips: “The best thing about only having one leg each is we only have to paint one set of toenails.”
In spite of their surgeries and health issues over the years, the sisters are at high school and living a typical teenage life.
Kendra said: “High school has been really good so far.”
Maliyah added: “We’ve never been bullied at school. We’re lucky.”
Although they share the same group of friends, the sisters have different personalities – “ Kendra is more outgoing” says Maliyah; “I’m way more outgoing” Kendra agrees.
They started their YouTube channel, Herrin Twins, three years ago and regularly vlog about their lives.
Kendra said: “We like making the videos just to make people positive.”
Their father Jake has seen how posting online has helped the girls’ self-esteem.
He said: “I think social media has helped improve their confidence. It gives them something to drive them, something they’re interested in.”