8 years later, once-conjoined girls in perfect health

Abby and Isabelle Carlsen, who were born conjoined, sat on their parents' laps on Friday, talking about their appreciation for Mayo Clinic.

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Mayo Clinic Pediatric Surgeon Christopher Moir, left, visits with the Carlsen family Friday at the Sesquicentennial Signature Event at the Mayo Civic Center's Taylor Auditorium. Moir successfully separated the formerly conjoined twins, Abby and Isabelle, in 2006. They attended the event with their parents, Amy and Jesse.

Abby and Isabelle Carlsen, who were born conjoined, sat on their parents' laps on Friday, talking about their appreciation for Mayo Clinic.

When they spotted pediatric surgeon Dr. Christopher Moir, who led the team that performed their separation surgery more than seven years go, the faces of the girls and their parents spread with wonder, and the girls leapt up to hug Moir.

Later, Moir said Mayo health providers are breathing the "sigh of relief" that happens when fear is gone.

"They've left all of this behind, and they are just happy, healthy girls," he said.

On Friday night, Moir brought the girls on stage before a crowd of 5,000 guests at Mayo Civic Center's Taylor auditorium.


He asked Abby and Isabelle their thoughts, and the girls began discussing their formal dresses. Moir asked if they had any trouble getting into their dresses.

Isabelle said yes. Moir asked why.

"It's size 5, and I'm size 6 to 8," she said.

"OK, that's wardrobe problems at the Carlsen house," Moir said to chuckles from the audience.

Then, Isabelle added, "depends on the brand."

Host Tom Brokaw said, "for all that they went through, they didn't remove any part of their personalities."

The audience had seen images of the girls when they were still conjoined at the abdomen, video of the surgical team applauding spontaneously the moment the separation was successfully complete at age 6 months — after 75 days at Mayo Clinic in Rochester — and of the girls playfully interacting at their home in Mandan, N.D.

A team of 30 health providers, including 18 surgeons, performed the unprecedented separation surgery that required an anatomical road map, thousands of CT images, handheld models of the girls' internal organs and six illustrations of key areas of anatomy of surgical concern.


More than double the surgical team, 70 people, had some role in the girls' care at Mayo.

During surgery, their overlapping and shared organs had to be separated "millimeter by millimeter."

Jesse and Amy Carlsen recalled for the Post-Bulletin the vivid memory of the girls' separation day.

"It crosses your mind. Even just little things will jog that memory of getting them," Amy Carlsen said in a telephone interview Thursday."We're so blessed to have two healthy girls," she said.

The girls became media stars as babies, their story gripping hearts nationwide.Media requests for family interviews have slowed since then.

"Pretty much now, we ask the girls," Carlsen said. "It's up to them whether they want to or not."

When videographers visited Mandan to capture the girls' activity last fall to be shown at Friday's Signature Event, "they loved it," she said. "They are not shy of the camera at all."

The girls have grown up independent and healthy.


"They go swimming ,and they're in all the Mandan recreational activities; soccer. They're in gymnastics," Carlsen said. "They're busy. They're going to do softball this year."

Their father coaches their team.

"I have all these emotions. I wish I could explain my emotions," she said. "I'm just full of them. I'm, like, so happy I could cry. I'm so extremely grateful and just thankful for Mayo Clinic for separating my daughters and giving them the life that they have."

Her husband told Moir and health providers in the audience that he wanted to thank them for "all the family picnics, for trips to the zoo. Even for future boyfriends."

The girls and their parents had a notable effect on the audience. Many were seen wiping tears from their eyes.

"If you weren't deeply moved by what just happened," Brokaw said, "we can arrange a heart transplant for you."

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