Conjoined twins undergo separation surgery in Va.

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Conjoined twin girls from the Dominican Republic were reported in stable condition Tuesday at a Virginia hospital after undergoing complicated, nearly daylong surgical procedures to separate them.

Maria and Teresa Tapia were born joined at the lower chest and abdomen, sharing a liver, pancreas and portion of the small intestine.

A team led by Dr. David Lanning, surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, completed a 20-hour surgery on Maria and an 18.5-hour surgery on Teresa.

Lanning said Tuesday the toddlers were in the pediatric intensive care unit and were in stable condition.

In several procedures involving six surgeons, the medical team divided the liver, pancreas and other shared organs and reconstructed the girls' abdominal walls.

The 19-month-old twins and their family have become celebrities in the Dominican Republic. The country's first lady flew to Richmond to support them. The girls and their 24-year-old mother, Lisandra Sanatis, arrived in Richmond about two months ago to prepare for the lengthy, intricate surgery.

VCU's first attempt at separating conjoined twins also gave an opportunity for VCU students to use their talents to help the family in unexpected ways.
"It's more than just an operation," said pediatric plastic surgeon Jennifer Rhodes, part of the medical team operating on the twins. "To get patients from start to finish you need to get involved and care for them in a holistic fashion." Rhodes helped coordinate some of the projects.

Students from the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising created new outfits for the toddlers, an occupational therapist modified a car seat so they could go on outings, and a sculpture student created foam models of the twins' bodies so Rhodes could practice on synthetic skin before doing the surgery.

VCU occupational therapist Audrey Kane modified a car seat for Maria and Teresa so they could go on outings around Richmond without having to rely on an ambulance. The seat had no sides so the twins could fit into it, and the harness straps and belt were modified to fit the girls' bodies, said Kane, who has received training on transporting children with special needs.

Four fashion-design majors designed new dresses for the girls, who arrived in the U.S. with summer-weight T-shirts that wouldn't be warm enough in Virginia's fall weather. The students came up with several knit dresses with flared silhouettes to accommodate their shapes as well as a bumblebee Halloween costume.

The project gave the aspiring designers a chance to "use fashion to do something for the community, rather than just giving people fabulous clothes," said senior Megan Murphy. "It's something useful."

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