Conjoined Twins to Be Surgically Separated

PHOTO: Angelica and Angelina Sabuco, now two years old, were born joined at the chest and abdomen
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The joy of expecting twins suddenly turned to despair when Ginady Sabuco of San Jose, Calif., was seven months pregnant.

That's when she found out her baby girls were joined at the chest and abdomen, a condition called thoraco-omphalopagus. The news was even tougher to take because at the time, she and her son were living in the Philippines while her husband was working in San Jose.

"I was asking God: why us, why me?" said Sabuco, according to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, where the girls, now 2-year-olds named Angelica and Angelina, are scheduled to undergo a nine-hour operation Tuesday to separate them.

Sabuco and her children came to the U.S. in September 2010, and a couple of months later, doctors at Packard Children's started evaluating the girls. After months of tests and preliminary procedures, doctors say the twins are ready for separation surgery and expect it to go very well, but they warn that if one twin dies, the other will die within hours.

While the hospital wouldn't discuss the cost of the surgery, they said part of the expenses will be paid for by the family's medical insurance.

The surgical team, led by pediatric surgeon Dr. Gary Hartman and pediatric plastic surgeon Dr. Peter Lorenz will separate the girls' diaphragms, livers and bowels and will then reconstruct their chest and abdominal walls using a special plate. Their hearts are almost entirely separate, and while their intestines are fused in some places, their digestive systems function independently.

"The plates will dissolve over about a year and a half," said Lorenz. "That gives the grafted bone plenty of time to fuse, so eventually the girls will have normal bones and stable chests."

After surgery, Angelica and Angelina will recover for about four or five days in an intensive care unit and will then go to a regular hospital room for another week. They will then return home to San Jose, where Sabuco looks forward to them being two very ordinary twin sisters.

"Angelica is more talkative and Angelina's a silent type," Sabuco told the hospital. "The girls love to play 'mommy and baby' with each other and listen to stories and music."

Doctors say the twins need to be separated in order to prevent future health problems, including muscular and skeletal deformities and the psychological stresses of being conjoined.

According to Packard Children's, only about six separation surgeries are done every year in the United States. Most conjoined twins never survive pregnancy, and only about 25 percent of those who are born will live.

ABC News reported back in September that there have only been about two dozen sets of conjoined twins in the world who were successfully separated. If the surgery goes well, Angelica and Angelina will overcome huge odds.

The family is eagerly awaiting the days when Angelica and Angelina can be normal little girls for the first time in their lives.

"I hope that when they grow up, they go to school, graduate and get stable jobs," Sabuco told the hospital. "I want them to have a good future."

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