Doctors at Le Bonheur separate conjoined twins - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Doctors at Le Bonheur separate conjoined twins

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An MRI image of the twins before they were separated. (Source: Le Bonheur) An MRI image of the twins before they were separated. (Source: Le Bonheur)
The babies with their mother. (Source: Le Bonheur) The babies with their mother. (Source: Le Bonheur)
An image of the twins released by the hospital. (Source: Le Bonheur) An image of the twins released by the hospital. (Source: Le Bonheur)
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV/AP) - Doctors said practice was the key to successfully separating conjoined twins at Memphis' Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.

For the anesthesia team, that included sewing together two Cabbage Patch dolls to practice flipping them without tangling the various lines that would be attached during surgery.

Joshua and Jacob Spates were joined back to back at the pelvis and lower spine, each with separate hearts, heads and limbs.

They were separated on Aug. 29, but the successful surgery was not announced until Tuesday. On Wednesday, doctors involved in the procedure spoke to reporters about the challenges, which included avoiding injury to the spine that could leave them paraplegic.

The day was emotional for the twins' mother, Adrienne Spates.

"I'm glad that everyone gets to see my baby and view them as separate people, because they are, and they have their own personalities," she said.

Dr. Max Langham, the leader of the surgery team that separated the twins, said only 15 percent of conjoined twins are attached at the lower spine and pelvis.

"We're not aware of a case in the United States in the last 10 years of this defect," Langham said. "There was one about 10 years ago on Saudi Arabia."

The twins still face a long road to recovery. Doctors said the boys have health problems that will require ongoing treatment, but they hope both will be able to walk with braces.

"Jacob has got a hill to climb yet with his heart operation and other problems," Langham said. "Joshua seems like a normal baby.  He's ready to go off to the races."

An experienced doctor explained to Action News 5 on Tuesday how difficult the surgery to separate the twins likely was.

"They had to carefully separate the common areas of the spine and the pelvis," said Dr. Roy Bors-Koefoed.

Bors-Koefed did not participate in the surgery but specializes in high-risk obstetrics at Mid-South Maternal Fetal Medicine.

He knows how rarely conjoined twins survive post surgery.

"How many organs are in common and what organs are in common will depend on whether they can be separated successfully where you can save both individuals," said Bors-Koefoed.

LeBonheur released an MRI scan of the twins pre-surgery on Tuesday. Bors-Koefoed said the twins definitely beat the odds because they were conjoined and because they are boys.

"It seems there are more male conjoined twins that are conceived," he said.  "But female conjoined twins survive much better than males."

He said it is possible the twins will live relatively normal lives.

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