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Surgeons Successfully Separate Joined Infants

May 31, 1996|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOMA LINDA — Siamese twins Shawna and Janelle Roderick will now be able to go their separate ways.

Surgeons successfully separated the conjoined, month-old girls in a six-hour operation Thursday, and said afterward that the twins should recover fully and experience normal, healthy lives.

"We'll all be disappointed if we don't have two very lively girls walk out of here--so to speak," said Dr. Gibbs Andrews, who headed the 24-person surgical team. "Their prognosis is very good."

The girls were born May 1 at Loma Linda University Medical Center. They were joined at the abdomen but each had a separate set of internal organs. While each girl had her own liver, their bodies were bridged by common liver tissue, which surgeons cut apart.

When the girls were separated, about two hours after the surgery began, cheers and shouts swept through the operating room--before the team quickly returned to the business of closing the abdominal wounds, Andrews said.

After Shawna was moved to a separate operating table, Andrews telephoned the girls' parents, Jeff and Michelle Roderick--who were in a private conference room to wait out the surgery--with the news that the girls were separated and that both infants were stable.

"All right!" Michelle Roderick blurted, giving a thumbs-up sign to the rest of the family.

After the girls were placed in separate intensive-care basinets, the parents met reporters to express their gratitude to the hospital, friends and God.

"There definitely is relief," Jeff Roderick said. "We're just really thankful."

While portions of the surgery were shown live via a video hookup to an auditorium where the news media assembled, the Rodericks preferred telephone updates because, Michelle said, she didn't want to make the doctors nervous by watching their work in progress. Michelle bided her time writing in a journal, and family members viewed previous videos of the twins and prayed.

At a post-surgery news conference, when the hospital showed the video of the actual separation and scissors cutting through the last of the conjoined tissue, the surgical team again broke out in cheers.

The most tense moments during the surgery occurred when Shawna experienced a drop in her heart rate and elevated blood pressure. Surgeons slowed their work and she recovered, Andrews said.

The girls face no additional surgery and should be able to go home in about two weeks, Andrews said. Each will have an 11 1/2-inch scar from the bottom of the sternum to the navel--which was reconstructed.

The Rodericks, both 29, spent the eve of the surgery cradling the children--after first washing them in warm water in a large plastic tub that Jeff Roderick described as similar to a horse trough.

When a reporter asked him how he and his wife would someday explain to the girls what they had gone through as infants, Roderick responded, "What, that they were bathed in a horse trough?"

Michelle Roderick said one of the couple's concerns is how the girls will deal socially with the separation. "Each has been like a teddy bear to the other," she said. "There's been this warm body in front of them that's no longer there."

The Rodericks said they would put the girls together in the same bed as soon as possible, so they could adjust to the change.

Michelle Roderick learned that she was pregnant with conjoined twins in December, as she and her husband were moving from the border town of Calexico to Prescott, Ariz. Both worked at the Seventh-day Adventist Mission Academy there, she as a science teacher, he as a physical education instructor.

The couple decided to have the twins delivered at Loma Linda University Medical Center, which is a Seventh-day Adventist institution.

The girls, the couple's first children, were born by caesarean section without incident. Doctors initially planned not to separate them for several months, so that the girls could grow stronger and balloons could be placed under their shared skin to stretch it to ensure that the separation wound could be more easily closed.

But doctors decided to separate them earlier because the infants' skin was elastic enough to accommodate the operation. Physicians did not want to risk either infant becoming ill--and affecting the other--by waiting longer than they had to.

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