CLINTON When doctors in Los Angeles this week successfully separated twins joined at the head, the medical drama hit close to home for one Davis County family.
When they were 18 months old in 1979, Lisa and Elisa Hansen made headlines as the first set of twins joined at the head to survive a similar procedure.
It has been 23 years since the operation, and the girls are now 25 years old, but they are very aware of the road they have traveled, father Dave Hansen said. So they and their family have been glued to the television watching a Guatemalan family go through all the same experiences they did.
"It's just like reliving it all over again," Dave Hansen said.
Watching the story unfold has stirred a lot of emotions in the family. Images of euphoric doctors finally putting the twins into separate cribs reminded Dave and Pat Hansen of when they saw their twins lying apart from each other for the first time. It brought tears to Pat's eyes, Dave Hansen said.
Lisa and Elisa have been independent of each other for more than two decades, but they still require some basic assistance from their family.
When they were born their brains were connected in a small portion, and they shared some blood vessels between them. Separating them meant doctors had to give Elisa more of the blood vessels, leaving Lisa with abbreviated blood flow to her brain. As she grew, the limited blood flow caused her to become a quadriplegic, and she still sometimes has health problems.
But that doesn't get her down.
"Lisa is probably the most well-adjusted child in the world as far as happiness," her father said. "She doesn't have a bad day, they're all good days."
Lisa attends school every day at Developmental Training Systems Inc. in South Ogden. Elisa goes to work at Pioneer Adult Rehabilitation Center in Clearfield. There she learns work skills and progressively becomes more self-sufficient by performing tasks just as she would at a regular job.
Lisa and Elisa are on about a second-grade level developmentally, but Elisa is more independent and even talks about moving out someday.
While Lisa has been confined to a wheelchair, Elisa learned to walk and has overcome much of the difficulty brought about by losing the use of one side of her body after the operation. But moving out is a prospect that her parents are not yet ready to accept as it seems that both young women will continue to be dependent on others, Dave Hansen said.
To this day the Hansen parents are strongly loyal to the University of Utah although Dave graduated from rival Brigham Young University's master's program. That loyalty to the U. is understandable since doctors there charted new territory to save their children, developed techniques that were used this week by UCLA doctors, did mountains of research and did it all for free, just like the doctors in Los Angeles.
"Who would have ever dreamed that I was going to have a million-dollar baby," said the father, remembering that he had just changed jobs when he and his wife found out they were pregnant 25 years ago. The pregnancy, therefore, became a pre-existing condition that wouldn't be covered by insurance. "The University of Utah ate a tremendous amount of money doing this, and they didn't get that much out of it."
The Hansens were in their early 20s when their first two children were born, and doctors included them in all their discussions about the operation. They didn't try to hide anything from the young parents, including the worst-case scenarios.Their age and naivete were probably a benefit to the young couple, Dave Hansen said, because they had no idea how abnormal and difficult their situation was. Raising their other three children has been a relative piece of cake, the father said.
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