updated 6/21/2004 5:48:30 PM ET 2004-06-21T21:48:30

After months of fear about their infant twin daughters, who were joined from chest to abdomen from birth, Kevin and Melissa Buckles are looking forward to returning to a more normal life.

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The girls, Erin and Jade Buckles, can probably look forward to normal lives, too, after their successful separation surgery, doctors said Monday at Children’s National Medical Center.

For now, the identical twins remain in critical but stable condition at the hospital. Dr. Gary Hartman, the lead surgeon, said the twins probably would be taken off ventilators within a week to 10 days and he expected them to be eating and “relatively active” in a few weeks.

The parents were already looking forward to someday telling the girls all about it.

“We won’t make a big hoopla out of this. We’ll tell them what happened, we’ll show them the pictures and then we’ll move on,” said Kevin Buckles, a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant.

Jade and Erin, of Woodbridge, Va., had been joined from their chests to their abdomens. They were born Feb. 26, about six weeks early, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The girls shared a liver, and one baby’s heart rested horizontally, protruding into the other girl’s chest cavity.

Surgery to separate the girls and close up the cavities took six hours Saturday.

Doctors are now focusing on getting the girls to breathe on their own, Hartman said. Their bodies have swelled up with fluids — a common reaction to major surgery — and that must be monitored, he said.

The parents had known since November that the girls would be conjoined, Melissa Buckles said. That led to months of fear and worry, and the couple tried to keep their emotions in check when the final incision was made to separate the girls on Saturday, Kevin Buckles said.

“Both of us were extremely excited, but after that two seconds were over, we went back to focusing on the girls,” he said.

The family also includes an 11-year-old son, Kevin Jr., and a 2-year-old daughter, Taylor. Taylor was at the news conference and Kevin was away at camp.

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