photos courtesy of Le Bonheur
On a bright and unusually warm autumn day last month, a flurry of activity surrounded Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in midtown Memphis. Media cars lined up near Poplar and Dunlap as journalists crowded into the hospital’s auditorium to hear what a team of doctors had to say about the life-altering surgery of separating conjoined twins, Miracle and Testimony Ayeni, just a week earlier.
“This surgery gives them the opportunity to lead independent lives,” said Dr. Max Langham, who led the surgical team. “Le Bonheur's medical team is like no other I have worked with throughout my medical career. To flawlessly execute an 18-hour surgery with this level of coordination proves we have some of the best physicians and surgeons in the world.”
Faith in Action
Along with a team of more than 120 surgeons, physicians, nurses, therapists, and other staff who were involved in the care of Miracle and Testimony, their parents Samuel and Mary Ayeni also had another major factor in the surgery of their daughters — their faith. The Ayenis are devout Christians who boldly and with fervor share testimony of how their faith in God has not only sustained them but also strengthened them to deal with the emotional rollercoaster they’ve been on since learning their twins would be conjoined at the pelvis, sharing some internal organs but having separate legs. Only about 6 percent of conjoined twins are connected in this manner.
“When you give everything to God and believe, he will give you peace,” said dad, Samuel. “I have the faith that He is helping us, and we are giving all of this to Him.”
Long after the TV cameras and most of the other media left the news conference, I lingered, just marveling at these two parents. As I spoke to the social work director who coordinated placing the Ayeni family in the FedEx Family House with the twins and Marvelous, their 3-year-old daughter, Mary walked up and we began talking mother to mother. Tears welled in her eyes as she began to tell me how some people in their native country of Nigeria had spoken of her baby girls.
“They told me that I should abandon them on the street,” she said. “And one person even told me that I should take them to a museum. They thought they were some kind of monsters. But I thank God that He blessed me to be their mother.”
The journey of these twins and their parents is nothing short of a miracle. Two months after they were born, a nonprofit in Nigeria, the Linking Hands Foundation, reached out to a surgeon at Le Bonheur — Dr. Ben Gbulie, who is also a native of Nigeria. After consulting with a team of surgeons to see if this complex surgery could be successful, Le Bonheur president and CEO then signed off on it. Le Bonheur and silent heroes in the Memphis community covered the cost of transporting the Ayenis to the United States, support and housing in Memphis, and the surgery.
“I can’t begin to express my joy,” Mary said. “We know nobody, but we know God. People I don’t even know are blessing us. Memphis is helping my kids.”
Meri Armour, Le Bonheur president and CEO, said, “I have met and grown to love this beautiful family and am moved to tears that our surgeons and doctors have given their girls a new lease on life.”
The girls, who doctors said were remarkably healthy prior to the surgery, are getting stronger each day. In fact, the same day the news of the successful procedure became public, the twins celebrated their first birthday. Armour called the news conference, “the testimony of a miracle,” playing off the girls’ first names and the faith of the family that doctors say gave them strength as well.
Miracle, who has always been the heartier eater of the two girls actually ate some of her cake while Testimony, who is described as more quiet, loves to snuggle. Now the girls will focus on just becoming like any other toddler as they recover and receive rehabilitation therapy to learn to walk before returning with their family to Nigeria.
Before we parted ways, Mary wanted to thank the city and the people, especially at the hospital. “Here at Le Bonheur, children’s lives really do matter. I am grateful to God for all of you.”