Family struggling through latest in dozens of surgeries to save girl

Published: Thursday, March 17 2011 1:09 p.m. MDT

Ten-year-old Ashley Duke, who needs a liver transplant, visits with her father, Scott. Ashley was born a conjoined twin and has had health problems most of her life.

Derek Peterson, Derek Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A man has come to Utah with little more than hope. He's watching for improvement in his daughter's health while her twin and the rest of the family are living in Idaho.

Ten-year-old Ashley Duke is back in the hospital for another surgery.

"On and off, it's been a roller coaster ride. We have good days and bad days," Scott Duke, Ashley's father, said.

It was a great day 10 years ago when Scott and Tina Duke found out they were expecting. But at a routine doctor's visit, they learned their twin girls were conjoined.

"From there it was just a lot of doctor visits," Tina Duke, Ashley's mother, said. "We were told to abort. We said, 'No. Find another solution.' "

Nine days after their birth, doctors separated Heather and Ashley. The girls were attached at the stomach, sharing a liver and bowel. A decade later, the two have endured numerous surgeries — Heather has gone through six, but Ashley has had 32.

"She's considered an extreme miracle case," he said. "Most of the doctors consider her a miracle."

Since birth, Ashley's liver has slowly failed. Last August during a surgery to repair her bowel, the liver stopped working. Five days later she received a liver transplant.

Ashley's liver graft did not take, and she has very limited function. Her bowel cannot be repaired until that function improves or she gets another liver transplant.

"It's tough to see any child suffer, especially your own," he said. "She's been limited to what she's been able to do her whole life."

Scott Duke has remained with Ashley in Salt Lake City while Tina Duke stays with their other two children in Idaho. The separation has been difficult on everyone.

"She's sick and needs her mom there, and I can't be there," Tina Duke explained.

Distance isn't the only struggle. Years of surgeries and medication have added up to millions of dollars. Insurance has covered most of the costs, but Ashley has hit her lifetime maximum. She's currently being covered by institutionalized Medicaid.

"We've taken all of our money out of savings and retirement. We have taken a second mortgage on the house," Scott Duke said.

"Because I've had 10 wonderful years with my two daughters, I wouldn't give it up," Tina Duke said.

Family and friends have set up a fundraiser to help the Dukes with their medical costs. For more information on how you can donate go to cota.donorpages.com and look under the patient name Ashley Duke.

Email: kaiken@desnews.com

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