News

Once-Conjoined Twins Have Come A Long Way 10 Years After Separation

Once-conjoined twins Clarence and Carl Aguirre are 12 years old, a decade after being separated as conjoined twins. (Credit: CBS 2)

Once-conjoined twins Clarence and Carl Aguirre are 12 years old, a decade after being separated as conjoined twins. (Credit: CBS 2)

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SCARSDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Conjoined twins Clarence and Carl Aguirre stole the hearts of the Tri-State Area a decade ago, and CBS 2 revisited them Monday as they reached the age of 12.

The delicate separation 10 years ago of the conjoined twins from the Philippines was not perfect, CBS News reported. But the boys’ mother says their very survival is reason enough to celebrate the anniversary.

“When they were born, the doctors at home told me, ‘You have to choose which one is to live,'” their mother, Arlene Aguirre said. “I said, ‘I cannot choose that.’ The doctors here did not ask me to choose.”

The boys, now 12, were born joined at the top of their heads, unable to sit up, stand straight, eat normally – or see each other.

Once their case was accepted by the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, leaving Carl and Clarence conjoined was not an option.

“If they hadn’t come to us when they did, they would have just withered away and died,” said Dr. Robert Marion, the boys’ pediatrician, who plans to be at the hospital Monday to mark the separation anniversary. “I am extremely proud of having been a part of this. I’m a little disappointed with some of the outcome but, clearly, to see how these kids have survived and are for the most part thriving, is really wonderful.”

The boys were separated on Aug. 4, 2004, in an operation that climaxed a then-unusual “staged separation” that took four surgeries over nine months.

When it was over, Dr. David Staffenberg, the boys’ plastic surgeon, told the mother, “You’re now the mother of two boys.”

Aguirre, who never left the area after the operation and now raises the boys in Scarsdale, said she throws birthday parties twice a year – on April 21, the day they were born, and on Aug. 4.

“The historical treatment was basically to sacrifice one to save the other,” said the lead surgeon, Dr. James Goodrich. “The staged separation turned out to be obviously very successful.”

Lead surgeon Dr. James Goodrich said there was no way the boys would have survived without the surgery.

“They would have been dead in two months. They both arrived here very sick,” he told CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez. “The mere fact that both of them are alive is a major accomplishment.”

Goodrich and his team have since separated four other sets of joined-at-the-head twins in London, Melbourne and Riyadh.

The Aguirre boys shared a “bridge” of brain, 5 or 6 centimeters long, that had to be divided. “When you get beyond 1 centimeter or 2 centimeters, one or both kids takes a hit,” Goodrich said.

Eventually there was some degeneration of Carl’s right parietal lobe, which controls the left side, Goodrich said. Carl suffered seizures, now controlled with medication, and has limited use of his left arm and leg.

A decade later, Clarence is a sweet, happy seventh grader who uses an iPad, plays video games, and dances to Michael Jackson tunes.

Carl loves playing with his brother, but his seizures also affected his mobility and speech. His mother said he can utter just a word or two at a time, such as “bye” and “thank you.”

Carl spends the school day in classes for kids with multiple disabilities and gets occupational, physical and speech therapy.

Both boys still wear helmets to protect their skulls. Goodrich said that once they’re fully grown, the skulls will be patched.

Arlene Aguirre said, “I did the right thing,” when she accepted Montefiore’s offer to do the surgery – and absorb the multimillion-dollar cost.

And caring for her sons alone – she’s a single mother – is getting easier as the boys grow up in their white house behind a picket fence off a busy road. She has a support network of friends who come over on weekends to stay with the boys while she buys groceries and runs errands.

With Montefiore’s support, the family lives in the U.S. on a medical visa. They have not been back to their hometown of Salay in the Philippines – and Arlene Aguirre said she misses her family. She hopes that she and her sons can eventually become American citizens.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)