When they left the Dominican Republic, Maria and Teresa Tapia were conjoined. Now, on their way back to their homeland, they return, still forever together in spirit and experience, but physically independent and free of each other.

The sisters, who were successfully separated and became a celebrity in their hometown in the Caribbean island nation, left Virginia and are heading home for Christmas.

The twins and their mother, Lisandra Sanatis, and their aunt Mari Reynaldo flew out of Richmond early Tuesday.

The girls underwent nearly daylong surgery Nov. 7 at Children's Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University. The twins were conjoined at the chest, and a team led by university surgeon David Lanning divided the twins' liver, pancreas and other shared organ systems and reconstructed their abdominal walls.

The 20-month-old girls were the guests of honor Monday at a going-away party, where they wore matching dresses and ate hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and cake.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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