It is nothing short of a miracle, a wonder of modern medical science, a monumental achievement by a team of doctors who after twenty-seven hours in surgery at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York City, which began on Thursday morning and ended Friday have successfully managed to separate conjoined twins at the head.
The twins, Anais and Jadon Mcdonald born 13 months ago were joined at the head but not anymore.They have been separated and can now live normal lives.
For the parents, Christian and Nicole McDonald it was a euphoric moment but they kept their emotions in check as the boys were wheeled out of surgery, Jadon first at 7.40am with his wrapped in a gauze and taken to the Pediatric intensive care on the 10th floor, followed by Anais 5 hours later.
Dr. James Goodrich, considered the leading expert on this type of surgery known as craniopagus surgery led the team which performed the operation on the twins.
It marked the seventh and longest separation surgery performed by Goodrich — and just the 59th craniopagus separation surgery in the world since 1952.
This was indeed a rare surgery and the decision to go ahead with was an agonizing dilemma for parents Nicole and Christian. The odds were stacked against them opting for the procedure even though it carried major risks, including the possibility of death or long-term brain damage for one or both boys. But not to operate also carried risks: 80% of twins joined at the head die of medical complications by age 2 if not separated according to studies.
The family was informed about the success of the operation at 3 am. The separation operation lasted 16 hours and several more hours to reconstruct the skulls of the boys. Goodrich informed the family of the separation around 3 a.m. “Well, we did it,” Goodrich said.
Nicole took to facebook and wrote “TWO SEPARATE BABIES!!!…and she was extremely worried about the future, She said that she did not cry till the doctors left the room barely being able to say thank you. Her heart-rending and poignant story touched the hearts of millions of parents and children alike.
It was one of a kind surgical activity. The medical team was venturing into uncharted territory uncertain but confident. It concerned the lives of two beautiful babies.
The next few months will be difficult for the family in terms of recovery. The parents’ worries extend beyond the surgery; they wonder what happens in recovery.
‘I feel good’
Dr. Goodrich began his day by skipping breakfast and enjoying a single cappuccino. He performed his first craniopagus surgery, 12 years back and he’s learned much since then, performing five other separation surgeries around the world, including Syrian twins in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
Prior to the mid-1980s, it was accepted medical practice to sacrifice one child on the operating table to save the life of the other. Many times both babies died. If one child made it through surgery, he or she often suffered debilitating brain damage.
Goodrich has pioneered the field. He established the practice of performing the separation of craniopagus twins in several shorter stages, instead of one single operation lasting more than 50 hours.
The McDonalds have had three previous operations, each resulting in progressively more separated brains. Today is the fourth and final stage. None of Goodrich’s conjoined twins have died during the operation. His mantra: “Take it easy and slowly and carefully.”
His surgical cap embodies that philosophy: It’s decorated with turtles. “Don’t change what works,” he says. “Ready to go”. Within minutes, he and Dr. Oren Tepper — the plastic surgeon charged with reconstructing the boys’ skulls and stitching their heads back together — go to the 10th floor to a corner room where Jadon and Anais are resting with their family.
The doctors exchange pleasantries with Mom, Dad, and other family members who crowd the room. Asked how he’s feeling, Goodrich breaks out into a James Brown-like jig. “I feel good,” he croons.
People like Goodrich and his brilliant team of neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists have given hope not only the Mcdonald’s but to the entire world.
It is only prayed that their long sustained effort bears fruit and the two boys survive to live and healthy normal lives. May God grant and bless Goodrich and his team, Amen.