A Community of Caregivers Celebrates Twins
University Public Affairs
One year later, two special girls have returned to the VCU Medical Center and to a community from which they never really left.
Sisters Maria and Teresa Tapia - just as photogenic as they were a year ago – are treating the newspaper and television cameras as if they’ve been in the spotlight before.
Their mother, Lisandra Sanatis, is more comfortable and confident this time, knowing her girls have been given a chance to lead two separate, healthy lives.
“On this trip I knew I was coming back into welcoming arms,” she said. “The first time I was just focused on getting through each day.”
It was Nov. 9, 2011, when Dr. David Lanning, surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, announced to the world that Maria and Teresa - born joined at the lower chest and abdomen - had made it successfully through separation surgery. Lanning and a team of about 45 physicians and pediatric subspecialists who volunteered their time worked for 20 hours to complete the complex procedure.
In the following days, the girls became the subjects of local, national and international news, most of which highlighted the extraordinary holistic effort on the part of the VCU community to not only perform the surgery and care for the twins, but also to make them as comfortable and safe as possible while in Richmond.
The medical team divided organs, including the liver and pancreas, and reconstructed the girls’ abdominal walls.
Additional support from the VCU community came in the form of custom dresses created by the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising; a plaster body casting mold made by a VCU Sculpture student to assist plastic surgeons in determining the best way to cosmetically care for the twins after separation; and a special car seat large enough to accommodate the twins for comfortable vehicle travel, which was designed by a VCU occupational therapist who also is a certified car seat technician.
This community of caregivers came together again Thursday, along with the World Pediatric Project - the organization that brought Maria and Teresa to Richmond from their native Dominican Republic for surgery - and many others who have been instrumental in the girls’ journey. They celebrated Maria and Teresa’s clean bill of health at a Caribbean-themed party at the VCU Medical Center.
The twins’ prognosis was made official during a check-up with Lanning at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU on Halloween.
Still in their princess costumes, Maria and Teresa were weighed and their scars were examined.
“While we expected them to do well, they really have ‘normalized’ over the past year,” said Lanning.
Maria, who was noticeably smaller than her sister a year ago due to a connection between the girls’ duodenums, has gained 9 pounds and now weighs essentially the same as Teresa. Both have been off of prescribed medications since February.
“My first indication [that the girls would be healthy] was from God, who helped me have faith in Dr. Lanning,” Sanatis said.
Thursday's celebration for Maria and Teresa was held on the campus of the VCU Medical Center, a place where their separation surgery occurred, but also a place that will always reflect their connection to each other and to a community.
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