Haitian Surgeon Successfully Separates Conjoined Sisters

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By Nigel Boys

When David Bernard was badly injured and buried under rubble for seven days after the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti and killed an estimated 300,000 people, he thought his greatest challenge in life was over, until his wife, Manousheka, gave birth to triplets.

What made it especially trying for the Bernards was that while one of the triplets, Tamar, came out a healthy girl, her twin sisters, Marian and Michelle, were conjoined, sharing one liver. However, this May, in the first ever operation of its kind on the Caribbean island, the 6-month-old girls were successfully separated by a man who used to be a native of the island but is now a leading U.S. surgeon.

When he was a teenager in 1972, Dr. Henri Ford moved to Brooklyn, New York from Haiti. He became an Ivy League-trained pediatric surgeon and then became the chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). After returning to the island several times in the aftermath of the earthquake to help those in need, Ford led the team that would eventually separate the twins who were joined at the abdomen.

“I arrived the second day that the airport opened, and pretty much went to work and spent two absolutely grueling weeks, the toughest ones of my life,” Ford told CBS News about the time after the earthquake. “When it came time to leave, I recognized that I couldn’t just say, ‘Yes, I did my share and it’s over.’ It wasn’t a ‘one and done’ thing.”

With an 18-member team of physicians and nurses from CHLA and Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California, Ford led the international effort in a rare separation surgery to help the twins who were born in Port-au-Prince last November.

The medical team used two color codes to identify which baby they were working on during the dramatic 7-hour operation. Marian’s team was in red, while Michelle’s was yellow. After a line was drawn to show the surgeons where to begin cutting, the delicate operation began.

Although the tension was high during the entire operation, everything went smoothly until little Michelle’s blood pressure dropped, causing further concern. However, the little girl became stable again after she was given a transfusion and IV fluids.

A mini celebration began when the surgeons realized that both baby girls would make it and were well on the way to recovery. “We now have two babies, two independent living organisms,” said Ford. “There is no satisfactory substitute for excellence!”

“It’s extraordinary to see them lying on their backs,” a delighted Manousheka told CBS News. When asked if he had ever considered not separating the twins, David admitted that “there was a moment the thought crossed his mind.”

But his wife told him, “No, if we truly love them, we need to give them that chance, to separate them so they can live a full life.”

Thanks to Ford, the healthy girls were able to return home after they were discharged from the hospital on Friday, just two weeks after the operation.

 

 

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