Ten years ago this month, a 70-member multidisciplinary care team from Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus separated 6-month-old conjoined twins Abby and Isabelle Carlsen. The 12-hour surgery -- and the months of planning, practice, and training that went into it -- captured the attention (not to mention the hearts) of the nation. So many media outlets documented their story that in an interview during the girls' three-year checkup at Mayo, mom Amy Carlsen said it was like having a ready-made "journal" for their family. "I don't remember much of it," she says. "So I actually went back and read and watched everything."
The years since their separation, however, have been filled with more ordinary childhood memories, which Amy and her husband, Jesse, cherish. WCCO-TV recently stopped by the Carlsen's North Dakota home to get a firsthand look at how the girls have adjusted to life since their separation. And by all accounts, they're simply happy, healthy twin sisters who maintain (or, insist on) their own identities. "They don't want to be confused for one another," Jesse Carlsen tells WCCO. "They're their own person." To think otherwise is something the girls say they don't understand. "Every night we look in the mirror in our room, and we're like, 'How do people get us mixed up?'" Abby says.
While Abby and Isabelle have grown into their own personalities, there are some things they still share. Like their love of gymnastics, clothing, competing with each other, and excelling in their fourth-grade classrooms. "I can't imagine how healthy they are, nothing stops them," says teacher Tiffany Moos. "They are academically at an advanced level, and socially, they are friends with everyone."
They're also protective of everyone, Jesse tells us. "They have a very soft and caring side, too," he says. "They stand up for each other and their friends on the playground, and include others who are left out." Their tightest bond, however, is still with each other, as evidenced by one sisterly trait that hasn't left them since their surgery. "In the mall, we, like, grab each other's hands," they tell WCCO. "It's weird."
Not to their parents. In fact, Jesse and Amy say that's the kind of thing that makes them "eternally grateful" to the girls' care team at Mayo. "Words can't express how thankful I am for what they did for our girls," Amy tells WCCO. Jesse tells us he does have a special equation that sums up the family's feelings about Abby and Isabelle's care team. "Ten years, countless prayers, many headlines, one awesome team = two amazing girls," he says.
You can read more about Abby and Isabelle here. Then, be sure share your comments below before you share this story with others using the social media tools.
Below is a video of their story created to mark Mayo Clinic's sesquicentennial in 2015.