Identical twins, identical heart defects

By Patrick McGee

It’s difficult for a mother to watch her child be taken away for risky surgery – twice as difficult when you have twins and both need same procedure.

“The hardest part was handing them over to the anesthesiologist to carry them away down that long hallway through those big double doors. I’ll never forget that moment,” Laura Robertson said.

Her identical twin boys, Ryan and Reece, had to have heart surgery at Children’s Medical Center’s in 2006 to correct identical heart defects. Each had a valve that needed repair and a hole in the heart that had to be closed surgically. It was delicate, high-stakes work since the boys were only 4 months old, and their hearts were the size of a large strawberry.

The surgeries were done separately, putting the Richardson mom through the anxiety-filled day twice. Ms. Robertson said she had great confidence in the surgeon, Dr. Joseph Forbess, but was deeply troubled by the idea that her boys would be kept alive by a blood pumping machine while their hearts were repaired.

“The longer they’re on that the more complications there could be or the more damage there could be. I was very anxious to find out they were off that,” she said.

Periodic phone calls from the operating room provided her with updates about their progress. The operation took about three hours for one boy and more than four for the other.

“We were able to stand out in the hallway and watch them roll by from the operating room to the ICU,” Ms. Robertson said. “It was frightening because they had so many cords and attachments, but it was good to know they were on their way to their room and out of the operating room.”

Things only got better from there. The boys were released from the hospital five days after surgery. They needed medication temporarily and never needed surgery again. They come to Children’s every two years for checkups with the cardiologist who has been tracking them since they were born, Dr. Catherine Ikemba.

Now 9 years old, the boys are talkative, engaging and funny. There’s no sign that they once had major surgery to correct life-threatening heart defects. They are extremely active, and they love sports, especially baseball, soccer and lacrosse. They attended Camp Moss, Children’s heart camp, for the first time this summer.


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