Separated twin dies

Friday, September 17, 2004

BALTIMORE -- A little girl born with her head fused to that of her twin sister died Thursday, shortly after surgeons separated them.

The surviving 1-year-old twin, Lea Block, lay in critical but stable condition.

Lea and her sister, Tabea, were separated after more than 18 hours of surgery.

Doctors were three-quarters of the way through the surgery when "it became clear we didn't have very much time and we had to go into emergency mode to separate them," the lead surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, said Thursday at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Tabea suffered from an irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure, according to her doctors. The surgeons performed "an exhaustive resuscitative effort," to no avail, hospital spokeswoman Staci Vernick Goldberg said.

Carson said that it's too early to tell whether Lea might have suffered brain damage. "If there are no major complications, I fully expect Lea will grow into a strong young girl and lead a normal, independent life," he said.

The girls' parents -- Nelly, 27, and Peter, 28 -- had no immediate comment.

The twins were joined at the tops of their heads.

The surgery started Saturday but was halted later that day when Tabea suffered heart problems. The operation resumed Wednesday morning, with doctors teasing apart brain tissue and separating blood vessels that the twins still shared.

In August, 2-year-old twins born joined at the head were separated at a hospital in New York. They were reported to be doing well last week.

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