Two-Headed Baby Surgery: Success

Rebeca Martinez sleeps at the CARE clinic in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Tuesday, January 27, 2004. Rebeca, a Dominican infant born with a second partially formed head is scheduled to undergo a risky operation that will take an estimated 13 hours for a team of international doctors and nurses on Friday. AP

A team of surgeons successfully removed the second head of a Dominican baby Friday in a complex operation that doctors believe to be the first of its kind.

The medical team led by a Los Angeles-based neurosurgeon completed the operation on 7-week-old Rebeca Martinez in nearly 11 hours, saying it went smoothly.

"The girl is doing great. The surgery is over and her head has been closed," said Dr. Santiago Hazim, medical director of Santo Domingo's Center for Orthopedic Specialties, where the surgery was performed.

The second head, a partially formed twin that doctors said threatened the girl's development, had its own partly developed brain, ears, eyes and lips.

Eighteen surgeons, nurses and doctors took several rotations to cut off the undeveloped tissue, clip the veins and arteries, and close the skull using a bone graft from another part of Rebeca's body.

The surgery was complicated because the two heads share arteries. Although only partially developed, the mouth on her second head moved when Rebeca was being breast-fed.

Before the operation began, the girl's parents had followed her to the door of the operating room and said a prayer over their baby, holding hands and gently caressing their daughter's head.

"Be strong, Rebeca. May God be with you," 26-year-old Maria Gisela Hiciano, said as she reached for her baby through the bars of the crib.

The operation was critical because the head on top was growing faster than the lower one, said Dr. Jorge Lazareff, the lead brain surgeon and director of pediatric neurosurgery at the University of California at Los Angeles' Mattel Children's Hospital.

Without an operation, he said, "the child would barely be able to lift her head at 3 months old."

Lazareff said the pressure from the second head, attached on top of the first and facing up, would prevent Rebeca's brain from developing.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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