Printer Friendly

LABOR OF LOVE DOCTORS WORK TO SEPARATE GIRLS.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

WESTWOOD - Year-old sisters blew kisses to their parents Monday before undergoing risky marathon surgery to separate the twins, who were joined at the skull.

The conjoined twins, who arrived from Guatemala nearly two months ago, were wheeled into the operating room just before 8 a.m., and the actual surgery began about 2 p.m.

The first-time parents, neither of whom speaks English, faced a painfully long wait. The complex and uncertain procedure was expected to last late into the evening.

``We know there are certain risks,'' Wenceslao Quiej Lopez, the babies' father, said in Spanish. ``It has already been 365 days, and the day is here. It would be a great happiness for us to be able to return to Guatemala with them.

``By the grace of God ... we are waiting and hoping that everything turns out well.''

Also waiting and hoping were members of a nonprofit organization, Healing the Children, that arranges medical care for children across the globe and facilitated the twins' surgery at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles. It was a first for the hospital.

Cris Embleton of Valencia, who co-founded the group in 1979 and is executive director of the California chapter, flew to Los Angeles with the girls and their mother, Alba Leticia Alvarez, and has since spent nearly every day at the hospital.

The young family spent moments playing together before what could be 24 hours of surgery.

``We know there are risks, but we also know there's a lot of hope,'' Embleton said. ``The parents each carried a girl in their arms and were rocking back and forth (this morning). The girls were laughing, giggling, blowing kisses. These girls are just unbelievable.''

The girls are joined at the top of the skull, and they face opposite directions. They share bone and blood vessels, but their brains are not meshed.

While reports vary, it is estimated that conjoined twins occur once in every 1 million births. Craniopagus - Latin for ``fixed at the head'' - occurs in just 2 percent of those conjoined twins.

Doctors were not able to assess whether both twins would survive the operation until neurosurgeons began their work.

The riskiest step was in separating the veins that connect the front of each girl's head to the back of the other. Doctors aimed to reroute the flow of blood to the brain of each twin to avoid the risk of stroke, UCLA neurosurgeon Dr. Itzhak Fried said. The twins' 21-year-old father, who packs bananas in rural Guatemala, arrived a few days before the surgery. His wife, the oldest of 10 children and unable to read or write, has spent many nights in a chair in their daughters' hospital room and has grown wary of media attention, both local and international.

Bette Billet, a head pediatric nurse who has spent a lot of time with the babies' 23-year-old mother, said she has shown enormous strength and poise in a difficult situation despite lack of education or sophistication.

``She's a strong woman of extreme inner majesty,'' Billet said. ``She's very sharp, very quick. This would be hard for any parent, but she has been very strong. These are her babies.''

Unlike most brain surgeries, the procedure - which doctors said could last longer than 24 hours including prep time, anesthesia and dealing with any unexpected complications - requires doubles of everything, from monitors and breathing equipment to two teams of anesthesiologists.

Everything in the operating room was marked in yellow or blue to distinguish each baby's team and equipment.

Blue stickers are for Maria Teresa, the larger baby who is known for her giggles and sloppy raspberry kisses. Yellow is for her sister, Maria de Jesus, the more serious and demanding of the two.

Dr. Barbara Van de Weile, director of neurosurgical anesthesia for the hospital, said the procedure is a nation-spanning collaborative effort among specialists.

``This will be a challenging (anesthesia) for us because there are two of them,'' Van de Weile said Sunday night, as she and her team prepared the operating room. ``This is completely unique and extremely rare.''

The procedure was delayed several weeks while doctors monitored ``balloon'' implants, needed to stretch the twins' skin so there would be enough scalp to cover both their brains once they were separated.

Dozens of health-care providers at UCLA - anesthesiologists, plastic surgeons and nurses - have volunteered their services, while UCLA Medical Center will fund the surgery. UCLA Medical Center physicians are donating their services, but the cost for hospitalization and use of equipment is still expected to top $1.5 million, hospital officials said.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Preparations were under way Sunday for the surgery that began about 2 p.m. Monday to separate twins joined at the head.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

(2 -- color) Twins are wheeled into surgery Monday. Maria Teresa Quiej Alvarez faces the camera while her sister, Maria de Jesus, is turned the other way.

Krista Niles/Associated Press

(3) Teams rehearse Sunday at UCLA Medical Center for surgery Monday to separate conjoined twins.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
COPYRIGHT 2002 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 6, 2002
Words:851
Previous Article:VALCOM ADDS FILM LIBRARY.
Next Article:JETHAWKS NOTEBOOK: CHANGED CAST CHALLENGES TOP PLAYERS GONE; TEAM STAYS IN RACE.


Related Articles
The Common Ground of Womanhood: Class, Gender, and Working Girls' Clubs, 1884-1928.
HELP!
Mom, Dad, new baby share holiday birthday.
NEWS LITE : POP SINGER ADDS MORE SPICE TO LIFE.
SHARED EXISTENCE CONJOINED TWIN GIRLS AWAIT SURGERY.
TWINS' SURGERY CALLED SUCCESS DAYS AHEAD CRUCIAL FOR SEPARATED GIRLS.
TWINS SEPARATED SURGEON FORESEES NORMAL LIVES FOR GIRLS.
DAY 3: A GOOD SIGN.
The rescuing hug. (News in Brief).
Katz, William Loren & Lehman, Laurie R., eds. The cruel years; American voices at the dawn of the twentieth-century.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters