Separated Siamese twins mark 10 years City girls celebrate birthday, health since 1986 surgery

April 21, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The world first saw Ciera and Tiera Bennett as 3-month-old Siamese twins, bundled in the arms of the doctor who had spent 7 1/2 hours in delicate surgery separating the tiny bodies joined from chest to abdomen.

But the girls remained out of the spotlight until their 10th birthday yesterday, when their family went public to tell how they bucked the odds -- not just by surviving, but by pulling through with few medical difficulties.

"With all the problems we see with children, it is satisfying to see two who have done so well," said Dr. J. Laurance Hill, who led a team of doctors in the 1986 operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He missed the party yesterday because of an operation on a newborn at Union Memorial Hospital.

The twins, wearing matching red, blue and purple jumpsuits, had a grand time as photographers invaded their home on North Fulton Avenue in West Baltimore. They were somewhat reserved; they giggled through an interview and revealed that even their uncle, Duane Stewart, has a hard time telling them apart.

"Sometimes we dress the same, and sometimes we don't," said Ciera, who attends Gwynns Falls Elementary School with her zTC sister. "My grandmother likes us to dress differently. I like to dress the same. We look so pretty."

Their mother, Lisa Dempsey, 28, learned late in her pregnancy that the twins were conjoined. They were delivered by Caesarean section, about six weeks premature. "But everything turned out OK, and now I have two lovely children," she said.

The twins' grandmother, Laura Weeks, said she knew everything would turn out fine as soon as she met the surgeon. "I wasn't worrying after I met Dr. Hill," Ms. Weeks said. "I knew that God had put someone in charge."

Ciera and Tiera were the third set of conjoined twins treated in Maryland up to 1986. Twins are joined in about one in every 100,000 births -- the result of a single fertilized egg failing to divide.

Dr. Hill said he has treated seven sets of conjoined twins, none of them doing as well as Ciera and Tiera, whom he still sees once a year. He said they had a 50 percent chance of surviving and a 10 percent chance of pulling through with no problems.

"They have been thriving since four days after they were operated on," the doctor said. "It makes it all worthwhile." Ciera and Tiera shared a diaphragm, heart sac and liver. Both are hearing-impaired, but their uncle said it is not known whether that is a result of premature birth as conjoined twins.

Yesterday, as dozens of family members and friends gathered to celebrate, Tiera and Ciera posed for the cameras and told their stories, which were more about 10-year-old girls than about hospitals and miracles.

"We like to play," Ciera said, never losing her broad smile.

"I want a bike for my birthday," Tiera added.

Asked if she understood all the attention, Ciera matter-of-factly stated: "Because I'm a Siamese twin."

Her mother said the twins understand and share a close bond as a result. They have three brothers, Randy, 4, and Terrell and Terence, identical twins who are 2.

A simple inscription on the cake read: "Happy Birthday Tiera and Ciera." It was decorated with two angels praying.

"I'm well aware that I have two special little girls," Ms. Dempsey said. "It lets me know that I'm special, too."

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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