Conjoined twins undergo separation surgery in Va.

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Sculpture major Morgan Yacoe integrated art and science in creating molds of the twins' torsos after making wax replicas of their bodies. Yacoe then recast the model in foam and covered it in silicone rubber so that Rhodes could use the model to anticipate surgical scenarios that could occur after the separation.

The World Pediatric Project, a nonprofit surgical-care provider for children in Central America and the Caribbean, sponsored the twins' medical care, along with the family's stay in the United States. Lanning has been a surgical volunteer with the group for several years.

Sanatis said she has always dreamed of seeing her 19-month-old daughters as separate and independent children. Teresa is more tranquil and Maria is more forceful and tough, she said.

"It may be a little strange at first, but it really is what I wanted," Sanatis said through an interpreter in an interview a week before the surgery. "I'm so happy to be able to see them be the individuals they were born to be."

Complicating matters was the fact that about nearly 88 percent of the liver's blood flow was routed to Teresa, leaving Maria smaller and thinner and Teresa taller and chubbier because Teresa received a much higher portion of the nutrients they took in, Lanning said.

Lanning said he had "extensive conversations" about the Tapia case with Dr. Gary Hartman, the pediatric surgeon who led a team at Stanford University that separated twin girls joined at the chest and abdomen last week.

Sanatis said that after the separation, her daughters will be glad to be able to get away from each other during arguments.

"They fight like siblings who aren't conjoined fight," she said. "But imagine if you have nowhere to go."

The girls are expected to remain in the hospital for about two weeks and stay in Richmond at least another month so they can undergo physical and occupational therapy, along with follow-up visits with doctors. They could return home by the end of the year to reunite with the twins' father, a construction worker, and three other siblings.

About a half-dozen separation surgeries are done in the U.S. annually, Lanning said, and maybe double that number worldwide.

Worldwide, conjoined twins account for between 1 in 50,000 and 1 in 100,000 live births. The condition is three times more likely to occur among females than males. A third of conjoined twins are attached at the lower chest, as in the case of the Tapia twins.

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