Formerly conjoined McDonald twins finally go home

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  • The once-conjoined twins returned home Friday evening for the first time

Valhalla, New York (CNN)Jadon and Anias McDonald, the once-conjoined twins who underwent marathon separation surgery in October, returned home Friday evening for the first time. One of their physical therapists called it the "first step in a wonderful life."

The return marked an arduous and sometimes tenuous journey for the boys who went through nine months of intense therapy at Blythedale Children's Hospital here and staved off infections that sent them to the intensive care unit.
For parents Nicole and Christian McDonald, having the boys home was the thrill of a lifetime. Nicole gingerly pulled Anias out of his car seat and carried him into their home.
    As Christian carried Jadon up the front stairs, his dad pointed out new siding and other renovation handiwork. "I put you in a new window, Jadon, so you can have a clear view," Christian said. "This is it. This is your home."
    Nicole earlier summed up the moment: "I can't believe we're actually going to be a family. I can't believe we're actually going to have everybody here in one spot, separate. "
    The boys were 13 months old when they were separated in a 27-hour surgery. They will turn 2 years old on September 9.
    Developmentally, the surgery set them back to infancy. Jadon has progressed largely on track. He's begun pulling up on furniture and walking sideways with the aid of furniture.
    Anias has struggled the most, both before and after the surgery. When they were joined at the head, Jadon was more dominant, his body working overtime to keep Anias alive.
    He is fed via a feeding pump and needs help from a breathing machine when he sleeps. But Anias has shown tremendous strides, too. He can roll from side to side and can come into sitting positions. He says things like "Uh-oh," and when Nicole finishes reading him a book, he says, "The end."
    He's also begun using his right hand almost as much as his left. When Anias first entered rehab, he had almost no use of his right side. "He has all the same drives as Jadon, which is incredibly encouraging," Nicole said. "He just needs more time."
    Maureen Carroll, Anias's physical therapist at Blythedale, said she's been thrilled to see his progression over the past nine months. He couldn't handle more than a one- to two-minute session when he first arrived and now is actively engaged for 45 minutes. He's also gone from being afraid of people to a child who "wants to interact with the world."
    "It's amazing," Carroll said. "I think every physical therapist would love to be in my place, treating such a wonderful child and being able to see the progress."
    Mara Abrams, the physical therapist who worked with Jadon, agreed, saying the boys leaving the hospital was a monumental moment in their development. "The first step in a wonderful life is about to happen," Abrams said. "It's just so great that the hospitalization is over."
    Nicole came to the hospital early in the day to load up stuffed animals, toys and other keepsakes from the boys' hospital room. By late afternoon, she returned along with Christian and their 4-year-old son, Aza.
    The moment had finally arrived.
    Unlike their red carpet sendoff from the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in December, Friday's departure was more low-key. Mom and Dad signed paperwork and put the boys in a double umbrella stroller. Jadon wore a white helmet with a red Velcro strap; Anias had a helmet with a blue stripe.
    Nurses bid them goodbye.
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    The family then strolled down the hallway and out the front of the hospital. "We're out of this joint," Dad told his boys.
    Jadon and Anias were then placed in their car seats, ready for their ride home. It was the first time everyone rode together as a family -- separate but still whole.