Joined at Birth and Surgically Separated, the Hansen Twins Are Small Miracles
12/13/1982 at 01:00 AM EST
The unthinkable had happened, and both Patricia and David Hansen still choke up when they talk about it. The date was Oct. 18, 1977. The place: the McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah. Pat gave birth by cesarean section to twin daughters. They were Siamese twins, joined at the top of their heads.
"I was still in the delivery room," Pat recalls, "and I had a feeling that I had given birth to something awful, something freakish." Her husband was no less stunned. "Why me?" Dave asked himself in anguish. "What did I do to cause it?" But within minutes he pulled himself together. "Those were my little babies. The doctors said they might not make it, so I went in to see Pat. We talked and cried for a good half hour."
At first Pat was uncertain whether she even wanted to see her newborns. But Dave, on his own, decided to bring the kids to her room. "I'm so glad he did," she says now. "I saw two sweet little children that were mine. Things changed around for me."
One of the twins was called Elisa, a name Dave first heard when he toured Denmark as a Mormon missionary. Her sister became Lisa—because it rhymed. A team of specialists, then headed by Dr. Stephen Minton, of the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City, evaluated the twins' condition, known as craniopagus. They found that Elisa and Lisa shared certain veins through which their blood flowed back and forth. The prospect of either—or both—surviving an operation to separate was not good.
Nonetheless, by the following February the Hansens and their doctors had come to the hard decision that surgical separation was the only acceptable alternative to lives of severe deformity. In and out of the hospital for 19 months, the sisters underwent four delicate preparatory operations. And then, on May 30, 1979, Elisa and Lisa were successfully separated after 16½ hours in surgery.
Pat Hansen, meanwhile, had gotten pregnant again. In fact, only three weeks before the landmark operation she gave birth to a healthy third daughter, Shaylyn. Now, suddenly, the Hansens had three helpless infants at home at once. Elisa and Lisa cried continually at night because they simply weren't used to being apart. After their cribs were placed closer together, the crying stopped.
Drawing on their Mormon faith for strength, the parents have reorganized their lives around the children. "Dave's not afraid to help out," says Pat. "If I'm out in the afternoon, he'll have the table set and dinner ready. He's sensitive. If I have had a rough day, he can sense it. Sometimes he'll send me flowers to build up my spirits."
That devotion has paid off, for the children as well as the parents. Today, at 5, the twins have distinct personalities: Elisa is extraverted, Lisa more pensive (with Shaylyn somewhere in between). Elisa suffers a weakness in her right arm and side; Lisa suffers similar problems on her left side. Recently Lisa also lost the mobility of her legs, for which she is receiving medical treatment. As the one with more physical problems, she is in a special education class at an elementary school not far away, in Layton, while Elisa can go to the neighborhood elementary school in nearby Clearfield. Both also attend weekly physical therapy sessions in Ogden.
Dave, 28, now heads his own dairy and ice cream distributorship, and Pat, 25, teaches a preschool class for Shaylyn and other neighborhood kids. They have no time for self-pity. "We think alike," says Dave, nodding toward Pat. "Our problems are nothing compared to what others have."