Conjoined Twins Separated in 1955 Open Up About Being First to Ever 'Survive and Thrive' Surgery

The sisters went on to become teachers and now have children, and grandchildren, of their own

When a young doctor rushed to a house call in 1955 to help a woman give birth, he had no idea he was about to help deliver conjoined twins.

Those twins, Lillian and Linda Matthews, would not only be the first to survive the separation surgery, but would then go on to have happy lives and raise children of their own.

The remarkable story of Lillian and Linda was shared by Today show reporter Sam Brock, who spoke with the sisters in a segment that aired on Friday.

Their story starts in the Mississippi town of Indianola, where 29-year-old physician Dr. Clinton Battle arrived at the Matthews' family home.

"[Our mother] was in labor and they couldn't figure out what was going on because my twin here … I was coming out and then going back in," Lillian and Linda explained to Brock, finishing each other's sentences.

Matthews twins, Conjoined twins who separated in 1955 and pronounced the first to to survive and thrive after their surgery
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The doctor soon figured out something was going on. Without the help of anesthesia, he successfully delivered the conjoined twins. The birth had complications where one twin was not breathing but still had a heartbeat, according to an article in the Global Journal of Medical and Clinical Case Reports.

The girls were rushed to Indianola's South Sunflower County Hospital where they weighed 11 lbs. and 6½ oz. Connected from the sternum to the navel and sharing a liver, doctors were miraculously able to separate the twins at 5 weeks old in what is believed to be the first successful case of the operation.

"The odds of us surviving were probably zero," they said.

Lillian and Linda grew up in a big family with nine other siblings. Doctors told them they would never be able to have children of their own, but the twins — both retired teachers now — went on to have seven children and 16 grandchildren between them.

The twins told the Today show they hoped their story could bring hope to parents who were going through tough times, saying that their story symbolizes "hope."

"They can be our twins," Lillian and Linda said. "They can have a healthy set of twins and they can survive."

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While advances in medicine have drastically improved since 1955, conjoined twins are still high-risk births. The Mayo Clinic states that conjoined babies are likely to be born prematurely, and one or both could be stillborn or die shortly after birth.

Severe health issues can occur in twins and there can be health issues later in life.

Conjoined twins are believed to occur a fertilized egg splits into two individuals, but the separation stops before the process is complete. Another theory is that two embryos somehow fuse together, the Mayo Clinic cites.

As for Lillian and Linda, their case paved the way for similar separation surgeries for generations to come — including in January, when JamieLynn and AmieLynn, 4-month-old conjoined twin daughters to Amanda Arciniega and James Finley, made history at Cook Children's Medical Center as the first conjoined twins to be separated at the hospital.

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