Jade Hope and Erin Faith Buckles were born on Thursday, February 26, 2004. They are true miracles who have beaten the odds. Conjoined from mid-chest to naval, the girls shared a pericardium (sac around the heart), diaphragm and liver. Their hearts shared a small electrical connection and beat in synch. Erin’s heart was 60% in Jade’s chest. These beautiful babies were born to Marine Gunnery Sergeant (now Master Sergeant) Kevin Buckles and his wife Melissa. They were also welcomed into this world by their brother, Kevin Jr., and sister, Taylor Joy.
Erin and Jade were successfully separated on Saturday, June 19, 2004. They returned home on Friday, July 2, 2004, just 13 days after surgery. Soon after the surgery parents Melissa and Kevin noticed that Erin was not moving her legs but doctors chalked that up as pain in her abdomen, since babies initiate kicking from areas in which she had been operated on. Erin finally underwent an MIR on her brain and spine in September of 2004 and doctors discovered she had a spinal cord injury. The damage occurred at the T3-T7 levels of her spinal cord. The injury had happened during the surgery although doctors can not pin point the exact time it happened but they do know that is was during the surgery as Erin would kick and move her legs before the twins were separated.
Erin works extremely hard at therapy, both at home and at therapy centers in order to regain as much function as she possibly can. Erin now visits many specialists to manage everything that goes along with spinal cord injuries. She will eventually be fitted with different devices and braces to help her sit and stand.
Now, there is a devastating addendum to their story. Taylor was diagnosed with a benign tumor on her spinal cord when she was 3 years old. The tumor was causing her spinal cord to be tethered; without surgery she would be paralyzed from her waist down. Her parents turned to an “amazing” pediatric neurosurgeon at Children’s National Medical Center to remove the tumor and detether her cord. Although Taylor lost some function in her right leg as well as in her bowel and bladder, her can-do-anything attitude keeps her busy splashing in the pool and playing outside with her twin sisters, Erin and Jade. Although her cord could continue to become retethered until she is done growing.
Every six weeks the Buckles girls arrive in Baltimore for two weeks of therapy at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Erin fights to stand and Taylor fights to remain standing. And, that’s where we enter the story. There is nothing more uplifting than meeting the girls at the front door when they arrive at our Ronald McDonald House, their “second home.” Not one girl pauses at the front desk to check in for they know where they’re going and how to get there. For the most part they own our suite and our hearts.
Melissa has endured unfathomable medical challenges. At the least they face an uncertain future maneuvered by hope for medical miracles. Yet, in the midst of it all, they have created a family so full of love that they radiate a beautiful bliss.
Through intensive therapy and a lot of hard work, Erin has recovered some function in the muscles below the injury. She is able to do things that the first doctors thought she would never be able to do. Erin can now walk short distances with the use of special braces called KAFOs (Knee, ankle, foot orthosis) and a walker. She doesn’t allow her spinal cord injury to slow her down at all. She plays wheelchair basketball and has competed in two National Championship tournaments, she participates in adaptive rock climbing, and she races 5K’s with me. She has many big goals, and I have no doubt she will achieve them. Erin would like to play basketball in college, and she wants to compete on her school track team and in longer races once we get her racing chair. Her dream is to make the Paralympic teams for both sports. She is outgoing and determined. When Erin wants to do something, she finds a way to accomplish it.
Supporting us through all of this has been our extended family at the Ronald McDonald House. They have continuously been there for my family over the past ten years. The amazing staff has provided encouragement, love, support, friendship, and a constant cheering section for all of my girls. Being able to stay at the House means we have a wonderful room, a great kitchen, dinner every night, new friendships every time, a very safe place for all of us, and it gives me the ability to focus on Erin’s therapy without the stress of worrying about those things. We all absolutely love to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, and we are very blessed that it is available to us. We look forward to the day when the new House is built, and even more families will be able to share our amazing experience.
– Melissa Buckles