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Going Home

Aired January 13, 2003 - 11:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is a happy day, indeed, in Los Angeles. We're standing by waiting for a news conference about the two young girls who were born joined at the head. They have since been separated successfully, and they get to go home to Guatemala today.
And Elizabeth Cohen is here to tell us more about that.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, I was in L.A. right after surgery was done, a 23-hour surgery last August where these girls were separated.

Now, doctors are telling us they're doing great. Medically speaking, they're doing well. They breathe on their own. They eat on their own.

What you're seeing right now is tow lovely girls in their lovely tiaras about to head home. Obviously, they've been separated, they're still bandaged up, and the big question is, well, they may be doing well medically, but neurologically, what did it do to them? Will they be like other children? And the short to that question is, we don't know.

I spoke to their pediatrician on the phone, and she said we just don't know. They're doing very well, they're progressing very nicely, but we really don't know what their future is because there's no reference point here. There are so few conjoined twins who were joined at the head who were separated successfully, and the ones that were separated successfully were joined in a different way. So they just don't know; they have no reference point here.

So they are hoping they will do well. They have done very well. For example, before, they couldn't grab an object like a rattle. Now they can.

Maria Teresa, who is the sister who had done the least well of the two, who needed three additional operations, because of complications, they thought she might have visual problems, and they said that she couldn't look at a object and watch it as it moved within her field of vision, and now she can, so they're very, very pleased with their progress so far.

KAGAN: So It sounds like these little girls are actually going to write the book on how you do when you have a surgery like this.

COHEN: Absolutely. They will be studied, and they will be watched. And in fact, a team of seven doctors, and nurses and therapists from UCLA are going with the girls to Guatemala, not just for the plane flight, but to stay with the girls, to help teach the Guatemalan people how to help and how to work with them.

KAGAN: So medically, in terms of surgery, they're done, it would appear right now.

COHEN: It would appear right now. As I said, Maria Teresa needed three additional surgeries to deal with some swelling, some accumulation of blood in her brain, so they needed to do that. They hadn't expected to have to do that, but they indeed did.

Now you can see here, for example, that these girls don't have the head control that you would expect of a 17-month-old girl, month- old child. They need to get up to speed on that. They can't sit up on their own; 17-month-olds usually sit up on their own.

KAGAN: Exactly, and walking.

Let's learn some more. Let's go actually in to UCLA and listen in on the news conference, and we'll talk more after that.


DR. EDWARD MCCABE, PHYSICIAN IN CHIEF, UCLA MATTEL CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: ... nurses, radiologists, anesthesiologists, social workers, physical and occupational therapeutics, interns, residents and technicians were involved in the twins' care.

All of the physicians donated their time, and the hospital accepted the girls, knowing that they would not be reimbursed for donations. Yet the hard work of these caregivers has been rewarded in many ways. Certainly they enabled the two Marias to overcome an astonishing physical obstacle and to launch independently their healthy lives.

They leave a legacy of new knowledge that will benefit medical practice far into the future and far beyond UCLA.

Perhaps most importantly, we can all take pride in knowing that the tremendous efforts of the people at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA will help other children suffering from similar ailments.

I'm pleased now to introduce Chris Embleton, co-founder of Healing the Children, who brought UCLA's Dr. Lazareff and the twins together -- Chris.


You know, it was a year ago that we first found out about the twins, and we could only hope and pray for a miracle. And we got it. We absolutely have it. And we are so grateful. The miracle started actually in Guatemala with the care that the girls got by the team there, and then they came to this awesome wonderful hospital.

And I have to tell you, there have been so many medical people involved in the care of these girls. It's incredible that so many people come together at the right moment, right time, and work as a team. And because they did that, we are here to celebrate two precious little lives that have been given to the world, and they are precious.

I think these girls represent to the world that miracles still do happen, and we are very, very grateful to UCLA.

When it came time for us to think about sending the girls home, the problem became, how? And a very special thing happened. I have a son, and I was -- that was working at FedEx, and I said, oh, I don't know how I'm going to get the girls back, and he turned around to me, and he says, mom, when it absolutely positively has to be there, what do you do? You go FedEx. So he contacted the powers that be at FedEx, and we are very, very grateful, the fact that we can say that we are FedEx-ing the girls home.

We, of course, helped with the donations. We had many, many people who made donations, and I have been humbled by many of them because so often they would be really small donations, and could you tell that they came from people who really didn't have unlimited resources.

In fact, one of them that touched me the most was when I got $1.25 in an envelope, because I knew that that person was sending their prayers for these two precious girls.

So I'd like to give to Dr. Karpf, Dr. McCabe and Dr. Levy will also be happy with this. We have two donations actually. We have one, which is all of the donations that were given to us, for $20,651.66. So that's the first one.

The other one is a very, very special donation. When we first heard about the twins, I shared it with an incredible friend who has helped us with many, many other children. In fact, they have been responsible for saving the lives of over 100 children. They are making a special donation, as well. And they do it with the hope that people will continue to support this effort to pay UCLA for the twins as well as helping other children, and so, Dr. Karpf, I'm able to present to you a check for $450,000 from a very special donor.

DR. MICHAEL KARPF, DIR., UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: Chris, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for these generous checks, and I also want to acknowledge your efforts in the efforts of healing the children on behalf of these two wonderful young ladies, and even more so on the behalf of tens and tens of thousands of other children.

This has been a special moment for UCLA, a special moment for Healing the Children, and more importantly, a special moment for the family and these two young ladies you'll be meeting shortly.

When we took this opportunity to try to help these girls on, we knew it would be rather expensive. This certainly helps. We did set up a fund, Twins Care at UCLA, and I'd also like to thank thousands and thousands of individuals who supported us through that fund, and that fund is still open. This was a very expensive medical endeavor.

So thank you very much, Chris.

EMBLETON: Thank you. KARPF: I'd like to now introduce the leaders of the magnificent team that took care of these children. As Dr. Levy pointed out, this was a team effort, involving surgeons, pediatricians, anesthesiologists, radiologists. It was an effort on behalf of the entire medical staff at UCLA Medical Center and Mattel's Children's Hospital at UCLA.

The two leaders of the team, I think you've all gotten to know over time, are Jorge Lazareff and Henry Kawamoto. I'm going to bring them up here to give an update on the twins' condition -- Jorge.


So thank you very much for all of you being here. And I make my words what Dr. Karpf said and Dr. Levy said prior, that you have done an outstanding job. We understand that this is an unusual set of conditions that these girls had, and all of you covered this in the most respectful manner, and all your questions were straight to the point, and I highly praise you for that excellent work.

Do you have any questions?

DR. HENRY KAWAMOTO JR., TWINS PLASTIC SURGEON: I'd first like to also acknowledge the administration of Michael Karpf. He told us the twins are not to go back until they're fully able to do so. Now when was the last time you heard an HMO say that?


And we reflect back really on that evening or morning, whatever it was, that we did the operation, and you look, reflect back on the team, you realize, here's a Czech, raised in Argentina, an anesthesiologist, Dutch-American, myself, Japanese background, Filipino nurses, Canadian nurses, Egyptian anesthesiologists, giving care for a neurosurgeon from Israel, Indian anesthesiologist, even a simple American by the name of Andy Smith.

This just shows what we can do if we do it together. And as the twins go back to Guatemala, we're really exporting some of the best of American technology, American goodwill, and hopefully, a message that says people of the world, we can work together, bring a lot of joy and very little sorrow.

Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're now at the point where you folks have come for, I think. We're getting ready to introduce the parents and the twins. I just want to reemphasize what Roxanne said to you. These girls and the family are used to a little bit of attention, but they're not quite used to what we have before us. These young ladies still have bandages on, and so we have to show them as much respect, as much care as we possibly can, so I'm going to ask no reporters or photographers go beyond the barriers we have set up. Anyone who does that will have to be displaced.

The parents have been through quite an adventure, and I'd like to introduce them and the girls. The father's name is, I'm going to try to do this correctly, is Wensefla Kia Lopez (ph) and mom is Alba Leticia Alvarez (ph), and I think that you all know the names of the little girls, Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus. So welcome two young, independent ladies and their parents.

They'll be here in a minute.

KAGAN: Well, apparently a little producing mishap here. They went in, went to queue the babies, and I guess the babies, you know, they're little stars. We saw the video. They have tiaras on. So they will appear when they are good and ready.

COHEN: And as the doctor said, they're independent now.

KAGAN: They are independent. They can waltz in when they want to waltz in.

COHEN: I didn't expect them to actually bring the girls out. I think that's interesting. They're so confident of their -- about their shape they will take them outside in front of the glaring light.

KAGAN: But as they said to the photographers, behave yourself, otherwise you will be banished.

COHEN: If we can go back to the live picture, It looks like now they're gathering the family together and that they're making their way out, mom and dad and the two little girls.

Elizabeth, you were saying it's unclear at this point as they head home -- and they're about to turn the corner here -- exactly what their future is in terms of what they'll -- look at how they have their strollers decorated. Isn't that cute, with the UCLA...

COHEN: Mom's pushing one stroller, and dad's pushing the other stroller.

KAGAN: The little girls, they know how to dress.

COHEN: They're great, I mean bows and everything. It's really incredible. Maria Teresa and Maria de Jesus, they're 17-month-olds.

KAGAN: Maybe we could drop the graphics at the bottom, so we could get a better look at the girls.

COHEN: These little girls, as we said, are 17 months old, and as you can see, they don't really look like 17-month-old children. When they go to Guatemala, what they're going to be doing physical and occupational therapy, get some more head control there. They can't sit up unsupported. That will be another goal. Walking, of course, will be the ultimate goal. But they really don't know what their future's like.

You can see this little one is looking around. They just don't know, because they're in such a unique situation.

Let's listen in some more.


KAGAN: There's mom. We actually thought this was going to go back and forth between Spanish and the translator. So until we hear the translator step in, talk a little bit about this. In terms of development, unclear at this point -- oh, here we go, let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): And I am very grateful to all the staff, especially to Dr. Lazareff, Dr. Kawamoto, the nurses and the hospital as a whole, and I want to especially thank FedEx and people that are making a little house in Guatemala for us so that we don't have to be back at the same house that we used to live.

I also want to thank Chris Embleton, the pediatric foundation. They made this possible.

KARPF: This has been quite an experience at UCLA. The twins and the parents are about to take off right now. They've got to make a plane. And many of us here will miss them. In fact, all of us here will miss them. They've really gotten into our hearts, and we wish them, and I'm sure that you and the rest of the world wish them the best of luck in their new lives in Guatemala.

Thank you very much for your courtesy during this interview and respecting the parents and the children.


KAGAN: I think those pictures really tell the whole story of those two beautiful little girls, and the eye does go immediately to the bow and the tiara, we also should point out that they are still wearing head bandages. Any indication how long they will have to do that.

COHEN: I spoke with the folks at UCLA, and they did not give any indication. The doctors there are very circumspect about everything. They don't make predictions. All they will say is that right now they're doing great medically. The road ahead of them is a developmental one, not a medical one. They need to learn how to do the things that 17-month-olds are supposed to be able to do. They need to learn how to sit up, how to grab on to things and hold on to them better.

But as you can see, there's a lot of emotion at UCLA, and I felt it when I was there in August just after the surgery. They are very, very proud, and rightly so, of the work they have done. We've seen the little girls sitting up in their strollers, where just five months ago they were attached at the tops of their heads. The only way they could move was to roll around. It's really amazing that just five months later, these girls are ready to go home. KAGAN: I'm also going to tap on your screen as a mother of two girls yourself -- at 17 months, what should kids be able to do at this point?

COHEN: Right, at 17 months, certainly children are able to sit up unassisted.

KAGAN: Most walking.

COHEN: Right, most of them probably are walking.

In addition, their heads have much better control. You can see those two little girls, their heads are sort of flopping around. Usually, a 17-month-old, they're heads are not flopping around like that. So they have a lot of work ahead of them.

And the folks at UCLA felt they could do that work in Guatemala. Obviously, the family wants to go home. It's physical therapy, they couldn't do the kind of complicated surgery that needed to be done, but they can do the physical and occupational therapy.

KAGAN: Absolutely.

You and I were having a having a chance to talk during the news conference. Not only were they born into this world in very unusual circumstances and not only had they had incredible surgery, but the time leading up to the surgery, they led the first part of their life on their back, so they didn't have the normal experience of normal infants and toddlers, of getting up and trying the world, and that's a big part of their development.

COHEN: Exactly. There's two reasons why they're not at developmentally where other 17-month-old-olds. The first reason is that they had this 23-hour surgery that separated them. They did not share very much brain tissue, and that was a good thing, so the doctors didn't have to slice through their brains; there wasn't much brain tissue shared. That's the first reason why they're developmentally behind and they have to recover. The second reason they're developmentally behind is that the first 11 months of their life were spent attached at the head rolling around, so their muscles, their instincts, their everything was all about rolling like a log, not about crawling or sitting up. That's what they need to learn to do now.

KAGAN: Well, as you said, they are going to write the book, and they've already led an incredible life, as short as it's been thus far. And we'll be tracking it.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for your help in following that. We wish them well, as they make their way FedEx back to Guatemala.


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