IMAGE: Ryan Shaw holds Mateo Asher Shaw, Angie Benzschawel holds McHale Twain Shaw
Pablo Martinez Monsivais  /  AP
Ryan Shaw, right, kisses his son Mateo Asher Shaw, as Angie Benzshawel, left, sits with her son McHale Twain Shaw at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 9/26/2006 7:55:55 PM ET 2006-09-26T23:55:55

When Angie Benzschawel held one of her twin boys alone for the first time after they were separated, it took some getting used to.

"Everyone kept saying to us that it probably felt more natural for us to hold them now," Benzschawel said in an interview Tuesday. "And it didn't, because we were so used to holding them together — that was natural.

"But it was a great feeling just to have them separated, be able to hold them, cuddle with them, not worry about the other one falling off or getting bumped somewhere."

The twins, Mateo Asher Shaw and McHale Twain Shaw, were separated three weeks ago at Children's National Medical Center, but it wasn't until last week that their parents were able to hold them. The boys, who were born May 10 joined at the lower back with conjoined spinal cords, have progressed well since the surgery, according to their parents and the chief surgeon on the case.

Their father, Ryan Shaw, said he's been amazed at how well the boys have done.

"These guys are rock stars," he said. "They're phenomenal."

The parents, of Sheboygan, Wis., sat with their sons on their laps — McHale on his mom's, Mateo on his dad's — sporting baseball outfits with the number 02. For much of the time, the boys stared into their parents' faces, but at others looked around the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

Last week, they were upgraded from critical to serious condition, and removed from respirators.

"The boys are making progress — steady and legitimate progress," said the chief surgeon, Dr. Robert Keating, in an earlier interview.

Both boys have catheters in place to drain spinal fluid out of their bodies to relieve hydrocephalus, a condition of excess brain fluid. On Wednesday, McHale will have his catheter converted to a shunt, allowing the fluid to drain into his body. Mateo's conversion to a shunt will have to wait because of an infection.

Both boys also have spina bifida, a defect that leaves the spine incompletely closed. McHale has the more pronounced case, leading doctors to predict that he would have a harder time walking and getting around than his brother.

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But Keating and the parents are encouraged that McHale has already moved his legs.

"This is a neurological function we had not anticipated remaining," Keating said. "We're obviously quite pleased to see that."

The parents and Keating are hoping the boys can go home to Wisconsin between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Shaw said that will entail figuring out how to deal with new challenges, such as all new doctors and not having the hospital take care of the boys around the clock.

The family has set up a fund for the boys, the Mateo and McHale Shaw Fund, in care of the Kohler Credit Union, 850 Woodlake Road, Kohler, Wis., 53044.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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