Real Life

Surprise wedding: Miracle twins’ dream day

Mum’s nuptials delight her once-conjoined girls

With the baptism of their three children at their local Rotorua church, it has already been a very special day for proud parents Melissa Davies and Callan Hose.

That morning, twins Abbey and Sarah – who were born conjoined in 2004 and separated in a groundbreaking operation at just five months of age – were welcomed into the Catholic faith, along with their little brother Blake, in front of a gathering of their nearest and dearest.

But the day is about to get even more special for the three beaming kids. As they pose for pictures at the baptismal font, proud mum Melissa excuses herself to go to the bathroom and secretly changes into a stunning white frock that perfectly matches the pretty dresses picked out by her 12-year-old daughters for the occasion.

When she’s done, Abbey and Sarah are escorted to the entrance of the church, where they gape in surprise at their mother’s bridal gown. “Is this a joke?” asks a stunned Sarah. “Are you for real?”

“Yes, me and your dad are getting married,” replies Melissa, 36, exchanging her daughters’ candles for bouquets. “You guys kept telling us it’s what you wanted, so let’s get moving down that aisle!”

At that moment, the church organ bursts into the traditional “Wedding March”, and all heads in the baffled congregation turn to Melissa and her two new flowergirls as they walk down the aisle toward emotional dad Callan, 43, and six-year-old Blake.

“About time!” exclaims a family member as the gathering erupts in applause and cheers. Another guest adds, “Those cunning buggers – this must be to save on fees!”

Taking deep breaths to keep calm amid the excitement, Melissa and Callan are clearly ecstatic at pulling off their surprise wedding, grinning as they lock eyes at the altar. But it’s the smiles on their daughters’ faces that are widest of all.

Sarah later tells us, “I had a lot of feelings, but I’m so glad they’re married. I always wanted it and it was a crazy, good day.” Abbey adds, “It’s one of the happiest days of my life. Mum looks like a princess and it was the best secret ever.”

Abbey and Sarah were born via Caesarean on May 10, 2004, attached at the pelvis, a rare link for conjoined twins, with odds of a live birth estimated to be one in three million. They were separated in an intricate 22-hour operation at Waikato Hospital, which made headlines for being the first of its kind in Australasia.

After the surgery, Abbey and Sarah refused to sleep separately – and even now they often cuddle up in the same bed.

Melissa explains, “A little while ago, they decided they wanted their own rooms, so we split all their stuff up, but it only lasted three nights. Now they usually sleep in separate beds in the same room, but they take turns having Blake in bed with them – even though he takes up all the room and messes the blankets!”

As well as doting on their little brother, best friends Abbey and Sarah love gossiping about boys, playing tag with their friends, and baking cakes and cupcakes with their dad. They’ve just started rowing lessons and they also play on the same netball team.

Abbey tells, “She’s in the attacking side, I’m in defence and Mum coaches! We like the same things, but we have different personalities. I like doing my hair and getting all dressed up.” Sighing, Sarah adds, “She takes forever to do her hair! She’s more girly.”

Abbey wants to be a doctor or a vet when she’s older, while Sarah has her heart set on becoming a chef, a baker or an accountant.

And with both girls winning academic awards at last year’s school prizegiving, the future looks bright for them both, however, they’ve had to undergo a lot of operations over the years and still face further cosmetic surgery.

Abbey’s right shoulder sits higher than her left one, while Sarah has an underdeveloped left leg, which the family refers to as her “little leg”. It means she usually wears a brace, but she goes without at the wedding and her limp is barely noticeable.

“It’s interesting that they haven’t tried to hide it,” marvels Melissa. “Sarah wanted a short dress for today. The girls started a new school this year and she’s made a few comments about her leg since then, but she’s strong and she’ll be alright.

“They both realise how lucky they are. Even though it’s been a battle, we’ve looked at other sets of twins like them and seen how hard they have it. And every time we go to a hospital, there are other kids so much worse off than them.

“They’ve never been teased and they’re quite open about their birth. We were getting our nails done yesterday and the lady asked the twins, ‘Who came out first?’ They said, ‘We both did. We were joined.’ They’re not ashamed of it or keeping it secret – and Blake joins in by talking about how he had his tonsils out like it’s totally the same!”

Having operated on the twins when they were tiny, surgeon Askar says, “The girls are growing up so happy and healthy.”

Abbey and Sarah had long been asking why their parents weren’t married, and when they were finally going to tie the knot. Melissa explains, “We’d talked about it, but we never had time. The twins came along and we were focused on getting them right.”

But then three months ago, Callan – who is taking a break from his job as a police officer to help his wife set up their business distributing dairy products to supermarkets – was on the receiving end of a horror tackle on a Whakatane rugby field.

“I had no feeling from the neck down for about 15 minutes,” he recalls. “It was the scariest thing ever. I thought I was paralysed and all I could think about was my family – their faces kept flashing through my mind. It made me realise how important they are to me and that it could all change in the blink of an eye.”

Callan spent six weeks recovering at home and in that time, he organised the children’s baptism and the secret wedding, which only he, Melissa and a couple of close friends knew about before the bride started walking down the aisle.

“The baptism was the wish of my grandmother, who passed away a few years back, and it’s a family tradition too,” says Callan. “And after everything the girls have been through, you just have to believe, don’t you?

“Then we realised that if we were going to get the kids baptised and get dressed up, with everyone who was important to us in the same place, then we might as well take the plunge ourselves.”

Melissa adds, “We kept it secret because we didn’t want a big one – no hen’s party or stag do – but it was a mission pulling it off. My dress is just off TradeMe. I knew it was the one as soon as I saw it. But the rings were a bit harder.

“I told Callan just to make some out of number-eight wire until we had time to get them done properly, but he dragged me into the jewellery store and, of course, we bumped into our neighbour!”

But all the secrecy was worth it when the big surprise was unveiled. Callan grins, “The best part for me was when Melissa walked in, and everyone clapped and cheered. I was worried I’d lose it as

I’m a bit of a sook, but she looked so beautiful and it just felt so right.”

Among the invited guests was Waikato Hospital’s paediatric surgeon Askar Kukkady, who performed the marathon operation that separated Sarah and Abbey. He’d got a colleague to cover for him while he attended the baptism and was delighted to witness a wedding too.

“Last time we posed for photos, I was carrying you,” he says to his former patients as Woman’s Day snaps pictures after the wedding. “It’s difficult to describe how pleased I am to be part of this day, and that the girls are growing up so happy, healthy and normally.”

Callan smiles, “Whether he likes it or not, Askar’s part of our family. He and his wife Leena are amazing people, and we’re very proud to have them here.”

After the ceremony, Melissa throws the bouquet – and Abbey shows off her netball skills by catching it. “I’m locking her up!” quips best man Alex Heta, who travelled from Brisbane for the big day. Then everyone heads to a Rotorua café for refreshments, before joining the family back at their six-hectare property, which is also home to six calves, pigs and chickens.

For the honeymoon, Melissa has requested a trip to the movies to see Chasing Great. “We both love rugby and I especially love Richie McCaw, so we’ll go see his film,” she explains, adding that life will carry on as normal after the celebration.

“Getting married feels great and we had an awesome day, but not much has changed, apart from the fact I feel a little bit more mature!” she tells. “We’ve had our challenges, but you learn from them, you support each other and you grow together.

“The girls are doing great, Blake is a cool little dude and Callan is the one I can rely on. Life is good.”

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