Howell twins make national spotlight

Twins featured in National Geographic

Johanna and Eva Gill
Johanna and Eva Gill

HOWELL, Mich. – Unless 6-year-old sisters Johanna and Eva Gill tell who is who, it's practically impossible to tell the identical twins apart.

They both have red hair, their favorite show is "I Love Lucy" and their outfits always match. They even picked out the same Christmas gift for each other.

But the fact that these twins are going to school and living life is a miracle. The girls were diagnosed with the rare twin-twin transfusion syndrome, a disease of the placenta in which blood from the mother passes disproportionately from one twin to other.

The result is that one twin gets too much blood, which can lead to heart failure and brain damage. The other twin gets too little blood, causing anemia and poor growth.

"When we were pregnant the doctors told us in one sentence, you're having twins but they have a percent chance of survival, so go home and start the grieving process," said the twins' father, Marvin Gill.

Gill and his wife, Angela Gill, made a trip to Tampa, Fla., where their daughters' survival chances improved through experimental surgery. After 15 weeks of bed rest, the twins were born in Detroit on Jan 29, 2005 after an emergency C-section was performed. The twins were due March 8.

"They are our miracle babies," Angela said.

Both were diagnosed with mild autism at age 2, but they aren't letting that hold them back. Academically, the girls are at the top of their class and for their age, are advanced in reading and math.  When I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up,  

"I want to be a fire fighter," said Johanna. "I want to be a surgeon," said Eva.

But these days, the twins are more than just miracles, their models.

Angela and Marvin took their daughters to an annual festival celebrating twins in Twinsburg, Ohio last year. More than 3,000 sets of twins attend each year, but Johanna and Eva caught the eye of National Geographic photographers.

"Now we told them, 'OK, you can get your picture taken, but it doesn't mean the magazine will use it,'" said their mother.

Fast forward a few months latter and the Howell twins have a 2 page. color spread in the magazine and are the first photo's in the article.

"This is a moment that just makes you a proud parent," Angela said. "We always said, imagine what it'll be like when we get through this and can start having fun, now we're really having fun."

The issue of National Geographic featuring the Johanna and Eva is on stands now.