Surviving Siamese twin improving after surgery Parents hopeful she will defy odds

August 22, 1993|By Katti Gray | Katti Gray,Newsday

PHILADELPHIA -- Hours after the surgery that gave Angela Lakeberg most of a heart she had shared with her Siamese twin sister, the infant showed signs of continued improvement -- enough to fuel her parents' hopes that she might defy the odds.

The 7-week-old baby reportedly was sucking her thumb, wetting diapers and squeezing her parents' fingers yesterday. But the ultimate delight, said a beaming Kenneth Lakeberg during a morning news conference: "Her eyes were open. . . . It was unbelievable!

"We're just fascinated by all of this," the father said. "The doctors gave us this chance -- this less than 1 percent chance -- and here she is with her eyes open."

"Angela is increasingly active with good blood pressure and good circulation," said Dr. John Templeton, one of the surgeons who led Friday's operation to separate the twins.

Nonetheless, with Angela listed in critical but stable condition in an intensive-care unit of Philadelphia's Children's Hospital, Mr. Lakeberg and his wife, Reitha, conceded that their optimism was tinged with a bittersweet reality that Angela might die.

It was a prospect the Wheatfield, Ind., couple earnestly considered during a week in which they were so on edge, they stole only 16 hours of sleep. A week in which the couple, also parents of a 5-year-old, saw their twin daughter Amy sacrificed in a potentially futile effort to save Angela.

"Of course I'm sad we lost Amy. It's like alternate currents, going from negative to positive," the father said.

Even if her sister Angela does not survive, the bid to save her would not have been pointless, an obviously weary, soft-spoken Reitha Lakeberg said. Mrs. Lakeberg said she believes the operation will help doctors better understand the medical mysteries of conjoined twins, who most often are female and represent one in every 50,000 to 60,000 births.

The Lakeberg babies were the 13th such twins to undergo surgery at Children's Hospital, which in 1957 became the nation's pioneer in this type of operation.

Those operations, however, have not prolonged life substantially for any of the twins with shared hearts. Two such babies died within hours after surgery there. A third infant lived for three months.

Several other children -- connected at points less critical than the heart -- either lived for somewhat longer periods or are alive today.

As for Angela, she continues to be closely watched during what hospital officials say is a crucial 72-hour period after the 5 1/2 -hour operation, which also gave Angela most of a liver linked to both babies.

Hooked now to a ventilator to ease her breathing, Angela lies in an open crib as her body tries to adapt to the reconstructed heart. In her room are a crucifix, a purple stuffed clown offered by a family friend as a good-luck charm, and two pairs of tiny handprints -- Amy's and Angela's -- that nurses at the hospital molded before the surgery began.

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