Baby with two heads dies
Sat 7 February, 2004 19:12
By Manuel Jimenez
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) - A 7-week-old Dominican girl born with one of the world's rarest birth defects has died, hours after undergoing a delicate operation to remove an undeveloped second head, her doctors say.
Rebeca Martinez died of post-surgical bleeding problems at around 6 a.m. on Saturday, said Dr. Santiago Hazim, medical director of the CURE International Centre for Orthopaedic Specialities in Santo Domingo.
A team of international doctors operated on Martinez for some 12 hours on Friday to remove the second head in what was thought to be the first such operation ever.
The surgery in the capital of the Caribbean nation was led by Dr. Jorge Lazareff, director of paediatric neurosurgery at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital, and Dominican surgeons Hazim and Dr. Benjamin Rivera.
Lazareff last year led the surgical team that successfully separated Guatemalan twin girls who were joined at the head.
The doctors had announced the operation was successfully completed late on Friday, but cautioned that the baby would face many risks as she recovered, such as infection or haemorrhaging.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday with Hazim, the child's parents, Maria Gisela Hiciano and Franklin Martinez, called their daughter's death the will of God and praised the team of 18 doctors who carried out the surgery.
AWARE OF RISKS
"If there is one grade above super excellent, it belongs to this team of doctors," the father said. Both parents appeared calm and resigned to their daughter's death.
Franklin Martinez said he had been aware from the start that the surgery would carry risks.
"We hoped we would have Rebeca alive today, but God did not want this to be so, and we respect His will," he said.
The baby was born in mid-December at a hospital in Santo Domingo with the head of an undeveloped twin attached to the top of her skull, facing upward. The infant was otherwise healthy but her brain could not develop normally unless the undeveloped head was removed.
The $100,000 (54,150 pound) operation was offered free to the parents.
The girl's condition, cranio pagus parasiticus, is so rare that there have only been eight documented cases in the world, and no known previous cases where surgery was attempted to correct it, Hazim told Reuters before the surgery.
Conjoined twins form when an embryo begins to split into identical twins and then stops, leaving them fused. Rarer "parasitic" twins occur when one conjoined twin stops developing in the womb, leaving a smaller, incomplete twin that is dependent on the other.
The second twin can form as an extra limb, torso or head, or as a complete second body, lacking vital organs.
In Rebeca's case, there was a gap in her skull where the heads were joined, and the blood vessels were intertwined. The vestigial head was enlarged and fringed with dark hair like Rebeca's but had a poorly developed brain and only rudimentary facial features.