Two formerly conjoined toddlers from the Dominican Republic have left a Richmond hospital after recovering from separation surgery.
Maria and Teresa Tapia left Children's Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University on Friday. Doctors, nurses, volunteers and others who cared for them gave the girls and their mother and aunt a warm send-off.
The 20-month-old girls were joined at the chest and underwent complicated, nearly daylong surgery on Nov. 7. In a series of procedures, the surgical team divided the twins' liver, pancreas and other shared organ systems and reconstructed their abdominal walls.
The girls will stay in Richmond for follow-up medical visits and outpatient therapy to continue to work on walking and other motor skills as they become accustomed to being separated. They're expected to go home by Christmas.
"They are enjoying life now that they're separated," said their mother, Lisandra Sanatis. "They enjoy seeing themselves as individuals."
While they're getting accustomed to exploring their surroundings separately, they still stay near each other and hold hands when they walk.
After being in Richmond for several months now, Sanatis says she and her daughters are ready to leave the confines of the hospital and return to their family in their native country.
"We're missing our family, and the girls miss their little brother, Lisander," Sanatis said.
They also haven't acquired a taste for American fare — including hospital meals — preferring instead to get takeout Dominican food, including the traditional beans and rice and other dishes.
Well-wishers have extended their support, including Rocio Castanos, a friend of the Dominican first lady who popped in Thursday for a visit on the twins' last full day in the hospital. Castanos, who lives in Richmond, brought each girl a stuffed animal and offered to cook them some sancocho, a traditional Dominican soup.
Dr. David Lanning, a surgeon and head of the medical team that is caring for the 20-month-old girls, says they have been recovering well.
Maria, the smaller of the two, weighs about 19 pounds and Teresa weighs about 26 pounds. Lanning expects the disparity in their weight, caused by the configuration of their small intestines and blood flow from the liver, to gradually even out.
Maria's pancreas is slow to produce digestive enzymes, but she is taking replacement enzymes. Teresa is undergoing treatment on the incision where the girls were separated.
The toddlers were scheduled to leave the hospital Friday. They will remain in Richmond while they undergo outpatient therapy to relearn walking and otherwise reorient their movements now that they're no longer attached.