A Mother's Hope

May 6, 2005 — -- This isn't Claudia Dogaru's first Mother's Day, but it will be a particularly special one. Dogaru will be with her twin daughters, Tatiana and Anastasia, at the Medical City Hospital campus in Dallas where an elite surgical team is preparing to separate the girls who were born conjoined at the head.

"They are at the phase where they want their mommy all the time ... and I'm glad to have that. I love them," Dogaru told "20/20."

And at 15 months, the girls have developed very different personalities, she said. "Anastasia, she is very active. She wants all the attention. She is the boss. She wants to walk. Tatiana is the quiet one. She accepts to be dragged by her sister. She has the most beautiful smile in the world. I love when she is smiling," Dogaru said of her girls.

Dogaru, a nurse, and her husband, Alin, a Byzantine Catholic priest, knew the girls' condition before they were born, but were determined to bring them into the world.

"I think that life is precious," Dogaru said. "Every child has a right to be born. It is not our job to take their life," she added.

From the start, the Dogarus, originally from Romania, were determined to find Anastasia and Tatiana the help they would need to live healthy and separate lives. But in Italy, where the family now lives, doctors gave them little hope.

"All the doctors said they will die. They will die soon. They didn't know exactly how much -- three months or three years. But they will die," Dogaru recalled.

Story of Egyptian Twins Gave Family Hope

But then the Dogaru family saw a report on television. Two Egyptian boys, Ahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim, joined at the head had been separated by a medical team in Dallas. Dogaru immediately reached out over the Internet and found Dr. Kenneth Salyer, a leader of the Dallas team and a renowned craniofacial specialist.

"They were intrigued and had been told locally in Italy that probably nothing could be done. So, they were desperate and looking for help," Salyer said.

"It was our only chance. We had no other possibilities, and when Dr. Salyer told us 'yes,' it was a miracle for me," Dogaru said.

Last October, she and her daughters were flown to Dallas and Medical City Hospital, all expenses paid by the World Craniofacial Foundation.

The medical team began extensive diagnostic testing to determine whether the twins can be surgically separated and survive the operation. The risks are very real. Most critical among them is that Anastasia and Tatiana share a blood supply to their brains that must be divided. And there are other complications -- only Tatiana has functioning kidneys.

Despite the risks, Salyer thinks his team can successfully separate the girls. Still, he stressed, "It is a very risky operation. They understand there is a risk of death for one or both of the girls."

And for Claudia Dogaru, it's a risk worth taking. "I know the risks. There are big risks. But this is the right time to do it. I hope they can run, talk, see each other -- be a family," she said.

The family has been separated by thousands of miles since Dogaru and the twins came to Dallas six months ago. Alin is back in Italy, and the girls' older sister, Maria, is staying with relatives in Romania. Video computer chats are the only way Claudia and the twins can stay connected with the rest of the family.

Medical Team Confident, But Surgery Carries Great Risks

Meanwhile, Salyer and the medical team in Dallas are hard at work developing a surgical plan that could successfully separate the twins. And, as you might imagine, it's complicated.

"They are attached in critical areas. The MRI would show us that it would be possible to separate them. It is a high-risk procedure and we are planning everything we can to see if we can't successfully bring that about," Salyer said.

But Salyer and his medical team have a good track record. The Egyptian twins were an important and successful case that taught them critical techniques they will bring to the case Anastasia and Tatiana.

In fact, the two sets of twins have met at the Medical City campus as the separated boys continue their remarkable recovery.

Salyer and his team are deeply committed to the cases. "I've been touched by these children and these families. And they create for me a real challenge. They touch my heart too, and so it's captured me. So, I've dedicated my life to that," Salyer said.

Because the media so often report on conjoined twins, you may think the condition and the miraculous medical attempts to separate them are now commonplace. They aren't. Less than 25 percent of conjoined twins survive their first 24 hours of life. Out of those who do, and are surgically separated, at least one of the twins survives -- 75 percent of the time.

And the successes bring great joy, not only to families, but to the medical team as well. "When we can offer a normal life to these children that's what it's all about, and the rewards come from that," Salyer said.

For Claudia Dogaru, the desire for success is a simple one shared by all mothers, "I only want them to have the best life they can have like every mother wants for her child," she said.

She must be patient. There are many more tests to be done and many more weeks to wait, but the medical team in Dallas is holding her close and moving forward with full confidence.

For now, Dogaru is just grateful to have the time with little Anastasia and Tatiana. "I live day by day, and I am glad to have them. They are my joy," she said.

She is looking forward to a very happy Mother's Day and to celebrating next Mother's Day with two little girls who will be leading two lives as healthy, independent toddlers.