- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

Surgeons at Children’s Hospital successfully separated 4-month-old conjoined twin boys yesterday, the lead surgeon declaring, “They are two separate individuals.”

“Both are doing well,” Dr. Robert Keating said last night. “All of the vital signs are doing well.”

The separation took place about 12 hours after the first incision yesterday morning.

Dr. Keating cautioned that the boys, Mateo Asher Shaw and McHale Twain Shaw of Sheboygan, Wis., still had several hours of surgery in separate operating rooms, where they were to undergo reconstruction and have large wounds closed.

“They have a fair amount of defects,” he said, such as exposed muscle. And he said it will be days or weeks before their recovery can be gauged.

Earlier in the day, 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.

Following 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 have been doing well,” Dr. Keating said. “So far, everything is a go. … But obviously we still have a lot more to do.”

Hospital officials say the surgery, which began yesterday morning, was expected to last 14 to 23 hours. Dr. Keating said he hoped to have it finished by last night.

The boys’ parents, from Sheboygan, Wis., have been receiving periodic updates and passing the time in a hospital waiting room.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said the boys’ mother, Angie Benzschawel, 25. “You have a mix of every emotion possible — pretty much the worst feeling.”

“But lack of sleep helps,” said the boys’ father, Ryan Shaw, 28.

Mr. Shaw said that the unknowns are the hardest part.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You don’t know how long the surgery’s going to be, you don’t know if one boy’s going to come out walking, or both of ‘em are going to come out walking, or neither of ‘em. You just don’t know.”

Both parents warmly embraced security guards as they returned to the room after getting an update from doctors.

“We’ve been here since April,” Miss Benzschawel said. “The hospital staff is almost like another family. We couldn’t get through it without them.”

They were also comforted yesterday by Melissa Buckles, whose conjoined twins were separated at the same hospital two years ago.

More than 65 people are working 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.

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