'We're Going to . . . Just Enjoy Our Family'
Doctors estimate that each girl had more than 100 sutures, some internal, after the six-hour surgery June 19. When they left, only sterile strips remained on the 6 1/2-inch incision each girl bears.
Other than an occasional dose of Tylenol, neither baby requires pain medication, said Gary Hartman, the lead surgeon. Babies are thought to suffer less pain than adults because "a large amount of pain is learned behavior," Hartman said. "It's not the sensing of pain, it's the interpreting and processing of it."
Of the four conjoined separations he has performed, Hartman noted, the Buckleses were by far the swiftest recovery, something he attributed to "the resiliency of children, the planning and skill of the team and a great deal of good fortune."
Appearing at a brief news conference in the hospital atrium before going home, the Buckleses expressed appreciation for the outpouring of public support: from prayer chains to cards from identical twins around the world.
"The girls look great," Kevin said. The couple had no special homecoming plans. "We're going to disconnect the telephone, disconnect the doorbell and just enjoy our family," he said. The couple also have a daughter, Taylor, 2, and Kevin Buckles shares custody of son Kevin Jr., 11. Also waiting for the twins at home was grandmother Jean Buckles, in town from Louisiana.
"We don't know how to thank everyone for all they've done for our daughters," Melissa said. "It's given them the chance for a new life."
The final cost of the twins' care has not been tallied, but estimates range from $750,000 to $1 million. Their care is covered by Kevin Buckles's health insurance.
Although the surgical team initially thought the girls would face future reconstructive surgery, Hartman said that now looks unlikely.
The girls, however, will still require daily physical and occupational therapy to strengthen and retrain muscles affected by having been conjoined and to develop motor skills that were limited by their deformity.
"The stress of surgery and recovery usually causes some delays in milestones," Hartman said, noting that babies who undergo serious operations generally catch up developmentally by their first birthdays.
Jade and Erin were delivered by Caesarean section Feb. 26 at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The Buckleses had known since an ultrasound during the 18th week of pregnancy that Melissa was carrying conjoined twins.
Fused as one, Jade and Erin had to ride to their medical appointments in a custom car bed. They learned to pluck the pacifier out of each other's mouth and sleep through one another's crying jags. Their parents would often find them sleeping hand in hand.
Even now, their mother said, Jade and Erin seem to recognize each other and retain some secret bond no surgery could change. Side by side in their crib, tiny fingers still sometimes reach out, grasping, until they join together again.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company