By Erin Marie Herrin with Lu Ann Brobst Staheli
“Some people believe angels are real. Some believe they walk among us. On August 7, 2006, on the fourth floor of Primary Children’s Hospital, angels were there to comfort me on the scariest day of my life.”
So begins the remarkable true story of the conjoined Herrin twins in the long-awaited memoir When Hearts Conjoin. The account of Kendra and Maliyah’s birth and subsequent separation has appeared in magazine and newspaper articles around the world. So it was with eager anticipation that I read an advance copy of When Hearts Conjoin — the real story, as told by their mother, Erin Herrin.
If we pay careful attention, we will recognize the small miracles surrounding us on a daily basis. Some we may attribute to good fortune, others to the diligence of making the right choices, day in and day out. Yet it is a rare thing to witness something so extraordinary that even medical experts are brought to an astonished halt.
On a warm October afternoon in 2001, Erin and Jake Herrin were told at a regular ultrasound appointment that the twins Erin carried were conjoined. After an agonizing three-day wait to meet with a specialist, they received the disheartening advice to abort the babies. Conjoined twins had little or no chance of survival outside of the womb, not to mention the complications that would ensue if they did in fact make it through the first fragile days of life.
As Erin and Jake struggled with one of the most important decisions of their lives, they turned again and again to their faith. They knew they were going against medical advice and common sense, yet the peace they felt was undeniable. They decided to follow through with the pregnancy. It wasn’t until years later that they would understand the chain of events that were set in motion — events that repaired their marriage, brought two beautiful girls into their family, and transformed the medical industry.
From the first page, I was swept into the life of Erin and found myself reading the entire book in one day. The roller coaster of emotions that she and her husband experienced left me breathless and in tears many times. Her pain was my pain, and her joy became my joy. At times, the reality of what Erin underwent in a physical sense and what she and her husband experienced emotionally and spiritually were overwhelming. I could barely comprehend experiencing one of their trials — let alone the combination: a miscarriage, the pending divorce with Jake, a father with stage-four cancer, a father-in-law rapidly deteriorating from Parkinson’s, making the decision between the life and death of two children, a series of critical surgeries, a kidney donation, and finally the decision to separate the conjoined girls.
How could Erin and her husband endure all this and still keep their family together and their faith intact? The answer may seem inexplicable: Faith. Yet it was the only way. Their faith, combined with prayers from every corner of the world, sustained them through the deepest valleys of despair. In order to tell her story, Erin Herrin had to revisit often painful memories, some of which she kept tightly locked in her heart. In a recent interview, co-writer Lu Ann Staheli said, “Probably the most difficult thing about [writing] this book was that Erin had tried so hard to shut out all the fears and bad memories from the past that she had almost blocked out some of the very details we needed to make this story alive enough to touch the hearts of the readers.”
When the movie Titanic was released in 1997, friends of mine said that seeing the mothers, fathers, and children slip into an icy grave forever changed their perception of the importance of family. Likewise, When Hearts Conjoin is a story of achieving the impossible through absolute perseverance, staying true to one’s heart, and sacrificing oneself for another in the most genuine form of service.
I must wholeheartedly agree with the foreword penned by Richard Paul Evans, “I’m honored to introduce a mother’s story of sacrifice, of decisions that had to be made by her young family, of tender moments of quiet determination that can only come through the purest love. You will not be the same person after reading about Erin’s journey to claim her family and keep them close to her heart.”
I, too, am a changed person.
Rated: Mild, for real-life situations involving marital difficulties and medical traumas.