Twenty-one years after Charity Lincoln Gutierrez-Vazquez and her twin sister were born attached from breastbone to pelvis, she returned to the same hospital to give birth to her own child in a "full circle" moment.
Charity and her conjoined twin sister Kathleen were separated by a team of nearly thirty doctors, nurses, and support staff in 2000 when they were just 7 months old. This all happened at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, the same hospital where Gutierrez-Vazquez recently gave birth to her own baby girl, Alora.
"It feels like a full circle since my mom had us here and everything," Gutierrez-Vazquez told TODAY.
Charity and Kathleen made national headlines when they were born conjoined, each with one leg and a third fused leg; they also shared several internal organs. As babies, Dateline cameras followed their journey, including the dangerous thirty-one-hour surgery to separate them and then put them back together.
"This is probably about as complex and as difficult as anything we do or have done," Dr. John Waldhausen said on Dateline at the time.
As they have grown, Waldhausen has stayed in touch with the family and was among one of Charity's first phone calls when she found out she was expecting a child. "He's been with me through a lot," she explained.
"When you're involved with an operation like that, you're really hoping that you can create a whole lifetime for somebody," Waldhausen said on TODAY on Monday. "And then to see this happening, this really comes full circle, so this is a great day for all of us."
Waldhausen admittedly had some concerns when he learned Gutierrez-Vazquez was pregnant: "I didn't know if her uterus was going to allow her to carry a child," he said. "I didn't know if her abdominal wall reconstruction was going to allow her abdomen to expand in such a way that a baby could grow."
Waldhausen reached out to a colleague, Dr. Edith Cheng, to oversee the pregnancy and delivery. Baby Alora was born at nearly thirty-four weeks via Cesarean section and then taken to the NICU for supplemental oxygen, but doctors say the baby and her mother are healthy.
"I wouldn't call it a miracle," Waldhausen said. "I would call it a medical triumph."
"Charity's case really is the full obstetrical circle," Cheng told McLaughlin. "This howling girl this morning, at almost 34 weeks, that is a true triumph, to get this baby to almost term. This baby's healthy."
Alora met her mother's twin sister Kathleen via FaceTime and is looking forward to seeing her in person. "God's really blessed me with all the doctors in my life and everything," Charity said. "I think it's important that people see that we're still doing good, and living the best life we can."