- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Six-month-old twins Loice and Christine Onziga still love to be close to one another. They were born joined together at the chest on Oct. 28.
The girls, from Leiko in northern Uganda, were surgically separated on April 19 by a 35-member team at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children in Baltimore. Loice and Christine, dressed in red and yellow outfits, respectively, stared with wide eyes at their surroundings yesterday as the doctors, led by cardiac specialist Dr. Marcello Cardarelli, introduced the liberated girls to the media.
Loice cried throughout the news conference, but otherwise the girls appeared healthy and normal. The girls will now be able to live beyond toddlerhood and enjoy normal, functional lives, said Dr. Cindy Howard, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"They like to coo to each other," she said.
The team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, nurses, engineers, and even electricians, spent 12 hours on April 19 separating the sisters, who were joined from the breast bone to the navel, the most common connection for conjoined twins.
Each girl had her own spleen, kidney and gallbladder, but they shared a diaphragm, sternum, chest wall and abdominal wall. Their hearts were connected by a large blood vessel doctors called "the tube of life."
"It's a story about what makes us all human," said Dr. Jay Perman, head of the University of Maryland Hospital for Children.
The girls were born to Margaret Onziga, 29, and her husband, Gordon, 28. The couple farms six acres, raising potatoes, peanuts and other crops.
At the news conference yesterday, Mrs. Onziga, dressed in a tan shirt and white skirt, was overcome with emotion. After entering the room, she smiled shyly, then put her head in her hands and cried.
Mr. Onziga, stoic in a blue blazer and khakis, expressed his gratefulness to the hospital and its doctors.
"My wife and I are very happy parents to see that both our daughters are alive and separate," he said, adding that he and Mrs. Onziga would "always remember" what the doctors and medical staff had done.
Mrs. Onziga expected to give birth at home, as is customary in their village, to a single baby. But after complications developed, the couple took a bus to the city of Arua, where a doctor delivered the twins by Caesarean section. They were referred to Mulayo Hospital in Kampala, where a team of pediatric specialists evaluated the twins less than two weeks later. The doctors included Dr. Howard, who was in Uganda on an exchange program.
The University of Maryland Medical Center, which includes the children's hospital, suggested bringing the girls to Baltimore. The hospital agreed to pay all medical costs, an amount officials declined to disclose.
The family scrimped to pay for the trip, which cost nearly $3,000. Mr. Onziga sold the bicycle he used to take crops to market for $35. The family received donations from charities and a discounted airfare from British Airways.
On April 19, Dr. Cardarelli, pediatric surgeon Eric Strauch and a team of others began with the abdomen, separating the girls' liver before moving upward into the chest. When they got to the heart, the surgeons clamped the connecting vein to see if blood pressure and oxygen levels would remain steady before clipping it.
"We were relieved to find out that we could cut this pathway of life between them without causing harm," said Dr. Bartley Griffith, chief of cardiac surgery.
"We are very excited to have two babies instead of one," said Mr. Onziga.
The team used synthetic material to reconstruct part of the diaphragm, chest and abdominal walls.
Only a few hundred pairs of conjoined twins are born each year around the world. Such twins are the result of a single fertilized egg failing to divide completely. Conjoined twins occur roughly once in every 200,000 live births in the United States. Of those who survive, only a small number have organs that can be separated.
The Onziga twins' separation is the second at University of Maryland Medical Center. In 1986, 3-month-old twins Ciera and Tiera Bennett were separated. Like the Onzigas, they were joined at the chest and abdomen. Now, 16 years later, they are healthy and active.
The Onziga twins will stay in Baltimore before returning to Uganda in October, Dr. Howard said.
This article is based in part on wire reports.


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