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Once-conjoined twins debut at Philly Children's Hospital

Shellie and Greg Tucker got their miracle on 34th Street: Their 9-month-old daughters, Allison and Amelia, are separate but whole.

Shellie and Greg Tucker got their miracle on 34th Street: Their 9-month-old daughters, Allison and Amelia, are separate but whole.

The formerly conjoined twins made their public debut Thursday at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (on South 34th Street), six weeks after surgeons successfully separated their shared chest wall, diaphragm, heart sac, and liver.

The blond babies - Allison in Mom's arms and Amelia in Dad's - sported matching zebra print shirts, flowered headbands, and red polish on their teeny fingernails.

Amelia also wore a nasal tube connected to a portable oxygen tank. She will stay at Children's into the new year. Allison, whose recovery has been faster, was discharged this week.

Both are expected to have "full, healthy, and independent lives," said Holly Hedrick, the pediatric surgeon who led the daylong operation Nov. 7.

"It's been a roller coaster of emotions," Shellie Tucker, 24, said during the news conference. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything. We have developed as a couple, as parents, as a family, and we have met wonderful people."

The Tuckers, from Adams, N.Y., were joined at the news event by their 2-year-old son, Owen. The family has been staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Camden since before the twins' birth by planned cesarean section on March 1. Greg Tucker, 25, had just finished a five-year stint in the Army a month before they were uprooted.

The couple learned that the twins were conjoined about 20 weeks into the pregnancy. The phenomenon, which develops when a fertilized egg only partially splits, happens once in about 60,000 births, and usually ends in stillbirth.

The Tuckers rejected terminating the pregnancy and consulted doctors at Children's, which had separated 20 sets of conjoined twins.

Children's "has had by far the most cases" of any U.S. hospital, said surgeon-in-chief N. Scott Adzick.

Shellie Tucker underwent hours of ultrasound imaging so doctors could assess the twins' anatomy in detail. The abdominal structures that they shared made them good candidates for separation, Hedrick said.

Plastic surgeon David Lowe led one of the many crucial preoperative steps, inserting skin expanders over the course of months to increase tissue available to reconstruct the twins' chests and abdomens after separation.

Specialties including cardiology, anesthesiology, and neonatology were involved in planning and executing the seven-hour operation.

While challenging, it held no surprises, Hedrick said.

The final disconnection "was an overwhelmingly dramatic moment," she said. "But it's a difficult moment, too, because, before the surgery, they were happy. They had no problem being together."

Since then, the twins' contrasting personalities have become more so, the doctors and parents agreed.

As if to demonstrate, Allison, the "feisty one," kneaded the neckline of her mother's shirt while smiling and staring at the reporters staring at her. Amelia, the "laid-back one," rested her head on her father's shoulder, looking relaxed and sleepy.

Amid the stresses of the last year, the Tuckers are already looking to the future. Shellie Tucker last week completed an online degree program in human resources management from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. Greg Tucker plans to study business at the State University of New York's campus in Watertown, where they have found an apartment.

"It's amazing that we've come this far," he said. "Two separate, healthy babies. I couldn't ask for more."