A Rare Case Gets Uncommonly Good Care

By John Kelly
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Who will separate our babies?

That was the question Ryan Shaw and Angie Benzschawel had to answer after learning that Angie was carrying conjoined twins. Who would perform the delicate surgery that would allow their unborn sons -- growing inside Angie and joined at the spine -- to live separately?

The Wisconsin couple traveled to the East Coast to visit several hospitals. They interviewed doctors and spoke with parents who had been in similar situations. Then they returned to their Sheboygan home to make the most important decision of their lives: Who will separate our babies?

They had to agree on the selection. It wouldn't be good, they decided, if Angie wanted one hospital and Ryan another. Each took a piece of paper, and in their bedroom, they wrote down their choices -- "So we couldn't change our minds," Ryan said later. They folded the papers in half and handed them to each other.

And then they opened them.

"Both of them said the same thing," Ryan said: Children's Hospital.

Mateo and McHale were born May 10 at Washington Hospital Center and then whisked to Children's. They were separated Sept. 6 after 19 hours of surgery. The family flew home Saturday. Before they left, I met the boys and talked with Angie and Ryan about their stay in Washington.

The couple laughed, saying that despite spending eight months in the nation's capital, they hadn't seen very much of it.

"We didn't get out as much as we wanted," said Ryan, 28. "We haven't even seen the White House," said Angie, 25.

They did sample some of the Cherry Blossom Festival, although it wasn't what they expected. Ryan said that in Wisconsin, any event including the word "festival" involves beer and bratwurst.

Mainly, their life was centered around Children's Hospital, a place they came to know very well. They said they picked it because of something the Buckles family of Stafford County had told them. Kevin and Melissa Buckles's daughters, Jade and Erin, were the first conjoined twins separated at Children's.

Many hospitals, the Buckleses said, have skilled doctors and nurses. Children's, they said, is exceptional at every level: from the people who clean the rooms to the surgeons who perform the painstaking procedures.

Although their case was rare, Angie and Ryan said they got the feeling that the care and consideration they received at Children's were not unique.

"They do it for every family that needs it," Angie said.

Said Ryan: "You go through your life thinking that people don't really care. Through this experience, my mind has been changed tenfold."

The boys' full names are Mateo Asher Shaw and McHale Twain Shaw. Both first names, Ryan said, mean "a gift from God."

As for the middle names, Asher means "to be blessed." And Twain? "To be cut in two."

"We thought that was fitting," Ryan said.

Group Efforts

I recently made my annual pilgrimage to Hoffman, Wasson & Gitler, a patent law firm in Crystal City. Marty Hoffman invites clients and colleagues to a holiday party every year. Don't bring a present, he says. Bring a check for Children's Hospital. The final tally isn't in, but if the past few years are any indication, it will be a nice one.

Hoffman, Wasson & Gitler is just one of the groups that help our campaign. Recently, the College Park Moose Lodge donated $500. The Saturday Club, a book group in Columbia, donated $100 in memory of Helen Harden. The Laborers' International Union of North America donated $1,000. E.J. Whitcomb & Sons Inc. of Silver Spring gave $200.

I'd be happy to list your group here. Remember that your tax-deductible donation will go to pay the hospital bills of children who don't have insurance.

To donate, make a check or money order out to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, MD 21297-1390.

To donate online using a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.

To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

Join us as we solve the problems of the world during my online chat at 1 p.m. tomorrow athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

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