Living for two: Qld conjoined twin a medical miracle
Alyssa Nolan is Queensland's walking medical wonder.
A conjoined twin that survived despite the most dire of odds and now at 20 she has one simple wish - a job.
"I am a caring giving person … I was given the most amazing chance at life and now I just want to live it like any other young woman," Alyssa told The Courier-Mail.
"I have a mild intellectual disability but it doesn't stop me working hard. I just might take a little bit longer to learn new things."
Alyssa said she would love a job in retail, she was chatty, friendly and loved to meet and talk to people.
"I want the chance to show people that I would be a reliable and good worker. That despite my many obstacles in life I just want to be like any other 20 year old girl.
"I have applied for retail jobs but have been rejected maybe because of my health issues.
"I am epileptic. But that's well controlled. I will show up every day."
Alyssa and her sister Bethany made international headlines in 2001 when at midnight on May 25 that year a Supreme Court judge ruled that the conjoined twins could be separated in a marathon operation scheduled for the next day at the Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital. Bethany was already very ill and the court was told her chance of survival was nil. It didn't look good for Alyssa but the judge ruled that she deserved her best chance at life.
Bethany lost her battle for life just five minutes after being separated from her sister. She was 23 days old.
Alyssa's life hang by a thread. She was left with a 30 centimetre open cavity in her skull where her precious twin used to lie. She was fragile with only one kidney. The tot suffered two cardiac arrests during the precarious surgery.
But no one could have guessed the swell of life force in her tiny body. She was strong. In the few weeks the twins shared life Alyssa would hold the hand of her fast failing sister as if to say you are not alone. I am with you.
Alyssa lives with her mum, Mary Nolan and embraces life as if she is living for two.
"I am forever grateful that I am alive and doing well, but it will always be bittersweet that I don't have my sister by my side. I would dearly love to talk to her about things like boys and everyday stuff," Alyssa, who has three protective big brothers, said.
Twins joined at the head occur at a rate of one in every five million births and are the most difficult to separate. The Nolan girls shared 10 cm of skull and some brain tissue and cranial draining veins.
"It's been a tough road and I have finally allowed myself to relax a little and realise that Alyssa will be okay. There were times she was a very sick little girl. We have come a long way from the trauma of 2001," mum Mary said.
"In the early years Alyssa really missed reaching out and holding Beth's hand. We always had to make sure she had something or someone to hold with that same hand. Years after separation she sensed the loss.
"Alyssa hasn't only had to deal with the emotional toll of losing her twin but conjoined twins have a unique physical connection. It always seemed that she was looking for her sister and I would catch her often talking to her. When she was very small I caught her looking into the oven glass chatting away and she said that she was playing with the little girl that looked like her.
"I can't imagine how that would feel for her, as a mum I know that I can't look at Alyssa without seeing Beth and that will always be."
Alyssa endured dozens of operations in the early years following separation but today she stays well.
Alyssa said she is lucky she has no recollection of the raw and cruel days after the separation where her parents had to grieve the loss of their little Beth and then there were the years of worry that she too may not come through.
"Beth is always with me and always will be but I live with the mindset that I need to move forward and not constantly cry over the past," the 20 year old said.
Alyssa owes her life to neurosurgeon Dr Scott Campbell and an amazing medical team at the Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital.
In a one in a billion chance Dr Campbell performed separation on two sets of conjoined twins in 2011 - both sets of twins were joined at the head. Taylah and Monique Armstrong were joined at the back of the head - a less intricate operation than that required on the Nolan twins.
Conjoined twins develop when an early embryo only partially separates to form two babies. Although two foetuses will develop from this embryo they will remain physically connected, most often at the chest, abdomen or pelvis.
Originally published as Living for two: Qld conjoined twin a medical miracle