- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Three days before their first birthday, the twins have tiny baby teeth; a vocabulary that includes "mama" and "bye-bye," and their first unassisted steps are not far in the future.

Christine and Loice Onziga, the conjoined twins separated in April during a 12-hour operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, are developing into normal, healthy children and are preparing to return to their native Africa next week.

"I feel so excited to go back home with the two healthy girls and to meet with the rest of the family," Gordon Onziga, 29, said Thursday at an early birthday celebration at the hospital attended by more than two dozen medical professionals who have worked with his daughters. "I thought that I was going to just dream about it."

When the twins arrived in Baltimore in February fused together, they sometimes cried and screamed when they were touched or shifted. Now independent of each other, they happily wave hello and goodbye, open their arms for hugs and stand and walk albeit with help.

But it took hours and hours of physical therapy to get the sisters to do even the most seemingly basic things, such as turn their necks.

The two were attached from the breastbone to the navel, with their hearts, livers and diaphragms joined.

"What we realized was they didn't know how to move," said pediatric physical therapist Elizabeth Cross.

Miss Cross and Dr. Cindy Howard will accompany the Onzigas to Uganda.

After the operation, which was provided free to the family by the University of Maryland Medical System, the girls slept in flexible plastic braces to help straighten out the curves in their backs.

Starting in May, Miss Cross worked with them five days a week in the hospital's fourth-floor therapy gym. At first they had worked for 20 or 30 minutes at a time because the girls tired easily. Gradually, the twins became stronger.

By the time the family arrives back in Uganda after their long journey, Miss Cross hopes the girls will have progressed a few steps more.

"My goal is to have them both walk in holding their parents' hands," she said.

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