Nicole and Christian McDonald were in the hospital room with their newly separated twin boys, Jadon and Anias, when they glanced over at Jadon. He moved his left arm, ever so slowly, up to his mouth.
Mom and Dad had an immediate reaction of awe: Did you see that?
“It was like a wave of relief that just permeated my whole body,” Nicole said. “It’s a relief that I’ve never experienced before, but I’m so glad I got to experience it.”
From the time he’d gotten out of surgery at 7 a.m. Friday until that moment about 2 p.m. Monday, Jadon had moved only his right side.
Dr. James Goodrich, the neurosurgeon who led the 27-hour procedure to separate the 13-month-old conjoined twins, had assured the parents that the paralysis on Jadon’s left side was temporary.
But the McDonalds said it was only natural to worry about whether he would regain movement.
“Seeing is believing,” Nicole said.
Christian added, “We were just so glad to see that. It helps me to know that God is with us, that he’s helping these boys through this.”
Since Monday afternoon, Jadon has progressed further. He started grabbing at his breathing tube Tuesday morning, trying to pull it off, his mother said from the boys’ room inside Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where the surgery took place.
He also tracked his mother and father with his eyes and smiled at them.
“It’s restored a lot of hope,” Nicole said. “Seeing Jadon progressing the way he’s progressing gives me hope for Anias, too.”
Anias has continued to have seizures and is being treated with the medication Keppra, as well as Ativan for episodes that last longer than 30 minutes.
The parents knew that Anias would face the bigger challenge in recovery. His surgery lasted six hours longer than Jadon’s, and he had breathing problems, heart issues and seizures before the operation.
Christian said they’re taking it “one day at a time and dwell on the positives.”
Added Nicole, “I know now that if I just stay patient that I’ll see the same type of progress for Anias. It’s just going to take time.
“It is all patience with Anias. There is no manual on this, so we just wait.”
During a Facebook Live with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, Anias fluttered his eyes ever so gently — the first time Nicole had seen him open his eyes since the surgery.
“He loves the camera,” Christian said.
Goodrich added, “He’s definitely more alert and looking right up at us.”
There was another first for Mom and Dad: Both boys have had gauze wrapped around their heads ever since surgery. On Monday evening, Anias had to have new dressing put on in the sterile environment of the operating room. Lead plastic surgeon Dr. Oren Tepper took a photograph of Anias without the bandages and sent it to the parents.
“It was probably my first moment of realization that they’re actually separated,” Nicole said. “It was surreal and unbelievable that he has this perfectly shaped head.”
Even under heavy sedation, Anias can feel their presence, she said. His blood pressure and heart rate calm whenever Mom is near.
“When I talk to him, his heart rate goes down, his blood pressure goes down, and he is calmer than when I move away from him,” she said. “His heart rate was 140, and I just did some massage of his legs, and it went down to 90, and (the doctor) said, ‘In just a minute, you made his heart rate drop like 40 points, just like that!’ ”
Remarked Christian, “I guess that means they’re mama’s boys.”
Both parents thanked people for the support they’ve received from around the world. “We definitely couldn’t have done it without them,” Christian said.
Since the surgery started, their GoFundMe page has swelled from some $50,000 to more than $260,000. The family is now asking anyone who wants to help the twins to instead make a donation to a friend whose child is in need of a kidney transplant.