- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Conjoined twins separated Wednesday at Children’s Hospital were doing well yesterday, but they face a long recovery, the chief surgeon on the case said.

“We’ve climbed Mount Everest,” Dr. Robert Keating said yesterday morning. “We’re at the top. It’s a great view, it’s very exhilarating and everyone’s very excited, but we have to come down. And we have many, many roads ahead of us — many medical issues to be dealt with.”

Chief among them, he said, is spina bifida.

“We’re not out of the woods,” he said.

Mateo Asher Shaw and McHale Twain Shaw, 4-month-old sons of Angie Benzschawel, 25, and Ryan Shaw, 28, of Sheboygan, Wis., were in critical but stable condition yesterday, a day after spending about 19 hours in surgery.

“Everything went according to plan,” Dr. Keating said at a press conference at the hospital in Northwest. “The biggest surprise was there were no surprises.”

The boys’ father said he thought before the surgery there was a chance he might not see the boys alive again.

Afterward, “It was just amazing to see them in separate beds,” he said.

Asked what he would do when he got home, Mr. Shaw deadpanned, “I think relax.” He acknowledged a challenging recovery even then.

“The road doesn’t end. It just becomes a little clearer for us,” he said.

Dr. Keating said he hoped the boys could go home to Sheboygan in a few weeks, but a lot depends on potential complications.

Right after the surgery, the boys’ parents said they were emotionally drained and relieved.

“It’s been the longest day — but it’s been the second-greatest day of our lives, obviously the birth was the first one,” Mr. Shaw told reporters shortly after midnight yesterday. “Now, having two individual children that we can pick up at any given time, is going to be great.”

The separation took place about 12 hours after the first incision Wednesday morning. Plastic surgeons then closed the surgical wounds of the boys late Wednesday.

“It feels like we’ve been here for weeks,” Miss Benzschawel said of the hours spent waiting for news on her sons.

“We are very happy with the results,” Mr. Shaw said. “We’ve been told that everything went as best as can be.”

Dr. Keating said it will be days or weeks before their recovery can be gauged.

Earlier Wednesday, the surgeons successfully separated the twins’ spinal cords but kept their shared tailbone intact temporarily because of the stability it provided to surgeons as they repositioned the boys.

After that, surgeons had to separate the boys’ muscle, tissue and gastrointestinal systems.

The twins were born May 10 joined at the lower back with conjoined spinal cords.

The boys’ parents received periodic updates Wednesday, and passed the time in a hospital waiting room.

More than 65 people worked on the operation, including doctors, nurses and staff.

Conjoined twins occur about once in every 50,000 to 100,000 births. Only about 20 percent survive to become viable candidates for separation.

The twins’ family has set up a fund for the boys called the Mateo and McHale Shaw Fund, in care of the Kohler Credit Union, 850 Woodlake Road, Kohler, WI 53044.

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