Like most high school seniors, triplets Mackenzie, Macey and Madeline Garrison like driving around aimlessly with friends when they’re not working their after-school jobs.
They enjoy horseback riding, climbing trees and spending time with their many pets in their Iowa home.
In almost all senses, they’re typical teenagers – except for the fact that Mackenzie and Macey were once conjoined.
“I do not see myself as special,” Mackenzie tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!) on Friday's episode. “I just think of myself as a 17-year-old girl who’s going to high school, who wants to get a job in a career that she loves, and wants to get married and wants to have kids.”
Regardless of how they see it, the girls are certainly extraordinary. Macey and Mackenzie were born conjoined at the pelvis, and were separated 10 months later by Dr. James Stein, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, in a 24-hour surgery in 2003.
Shortly after, they were adopted by Darla Keller, now 50, who brought them home to Iowa alongside her three biological sons. Though the surgery was successful, both girls each have one leg, and rely on prosthetics to get around.
“There’s rarely a week that goes by that I don’t in some way think about them,” says Stein. “I remember watching them shoot through the halls here with their crutches, and to see them riding horses and taking on as normal a life as they possibly could, is really, truly exciting.”
Though the now 17 year olds have experienced additional medical hardships over the years (including spinal infusions for Macey and Mackenzie), the triplets say life is nothing but normal, and are looking ahead to graduating high school and heading off to college.
Mackenzie isn’t exactly sure what her future plans are, but she enjoys agriculture and plant anatomy, while Macey has her sights set on possibly becoming a kindergarten teacher.
Madeline, meanwhile, wants to be a nurse and, eventually, a nurse practitioner, with a focus on helping geriatric patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“I think there’s factors of just how I’ve grown up and the people that I’ve surrounded myself with are a lot into medicine,” she explains, noting that her mother is a physical therapist.
Though the girls haven’t seen Dr. Stein in about 10 years, they still keep in touch with the man who helped save their lives, and Mackenzie and Madeline — who calls him “the coolest person ever” — recently sent him emails inquiring about his job and his family.
“It’s been a wonderful experience following the girls themselves and staying in touch with them,” says Stein, who adds that they often catch up on social media. “But more recently, getting letters from the kids as we had intermittently, it’s been really rewarding in that sense as well.”
Though the triplets have been making national news since their birth, the fact that the country knows all about their story is surprising to the girls, who say they’ve learned to live with their disabilities and don’t see themselves as any different from their peers.
“I don’t want people to know us at our school as the girls that have one leg and are famous because of their story,” says Macey. “I just want to be myself and go out in public and I want to make new friends. I’ll share my life story, I don’t mind sharing it, but I don’t want it to be a huge thing.”
For Darla, watching her daughters grow into the young women she calls her best friends has been a weight off.
“I’m relieved because, like I said, we always knew there were going to be bumps in the road and issues,” she says. “And I didn’t know exactly what those were going to be, but it is a relief to see just how normal they are. They’re just like their peers.”
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