Twin sisters' bond grows stronger through rare surgery

Updated: Nov. 22, 2017 at 6:44 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Twin sisters from Kentucky have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Cherona Craig and Cheryl Adair -- from Bedford, Kentucky -- are identical twins with a special kind of bond.

"You always have a best friend," Adair said. "Someone who is your other half is there all the time."

Adair and Bedford have stayed by each other's side for 47 years -- inseparable, even when Adair was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She had the cancer lump removed. It came back three years later. That time, she had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Adair thought breast cancer was behind her, but it wasn't. She was hit again in 2016 and had to have more skin removed. Adair battled infections and wound problems, along with chemotherapy and radiation. The right half of Adair's chest ended up being deformed.

Throughout the eight-year journey, Craig wanted to only do one thing.

"I would ask the doctors a lot of the time, isn't there anything I could do to help my sister," she said.

Turns out there was. Adair wanted her right breast rebuilt. In October, both sisters went in for surgery at Jewish Hospital for a procedure that reconstructs a breast from a patient's own abdomen. It's called deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap breast reconstruction. Adair had a better option for that -- through her sister.

"Her skin was better suited and she had more skin and tissue to donate," Adair said.

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Using a twin sister's abdomen to create a breast has only happened five times in the world. Their combined surgeries took 14 hours.

"In this case there is no need for any drugs for the rest of their life," Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center Dr. Michelle Palazzo said. "There is no rejection because they are twins. If you do it from someone who is not identical, as we have done with hand transplants over the years, those patients need to have anti-rejection meds for the rest of their life. This is unique in that they don't need that."

Craig got a bonus from the surgery. Because the fat from her abdomen was given to her sister, Craig got a tummy tuck. For Craig, it's not about the cosmetics; it's about keeping her sister alive.

"I finally have a chance to do something to help you and possibly keep you cancer free," Craig said.

A team of doctors from Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center, the University of Louisville Physicians, and the Christine M. Kleinert Institute collaborated to make the surgery possible.

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