Two nurses from Redondo Beach joined a team of 16 other physicians and nurses from Los Angeles to separate a pair of six-month-old conjoined Haitian twins, the first surgery of its kind on Haitian soil.
Ultimately the procedure saved the lives of Marian Dave-Nouche Bernard and Michelle Dave-Nouche Bernard who were born in November, 2014 in a poor rural community in the country’s Central Plateau, about 40 miles from the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince.
The international collaboration in late May was formed by surgery team members from the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and Keck Medicine University of Southern California. Nurses Nhu Tran, a MSN from the CHLA’s cardiothoracic surgery team, and Melinda Dizon, a BSN from the CHLA’s operating room team, both said the venture was more than a rewarding experience.
Tran had previously volunteered in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010. When Haitian-born CHLA surgeon-in-chief Dr. Henri Ford asked her to join the twins’ surgery team, she said yes immediately.
“Basically when we left from our last trip to Haiti we were interested in returning for any other volunteering that we could do. Then Dr. Ford heard about the twins and, since it worked out with my dates for being in school, I was excited to join the team,” Tran said.
Dizon had gone on previous volunteer missions, but had never been to Haiti.
“I was super excited to join on this collaborative mission trip,” said Dizon. “I work in the operating room and it was (lead surgical nurse) Caitlin Fitzgibbons who suggested all three of us from the operating room should go. This was my first surgery for separating conjoined twins.”
Both nurses said it was an honor to meet the twins’ parents and be a part of helping their daughters.
“It was an amazing honor to help this family. The father had been rescued from the earthquake’s rubble. He had been buried for seven days and his right eye was paralyzed as a result of his injuries,” Dizon said. “It is amazing that he even survived and then they were faced with having conjoined twins. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of something so amazing. Being able to keep those parents with their children, having the procedure done in Haiti was a huge positive for that family.”
The intense procedure took seven hours at University Hospital of Mirebalais (HUM), in Mirebalais Haiti.
The twins were actually a set of triplets, but their sister, Tamar was normal and healthy. Their mother Manoucheaca Ketan, 35, gave birth to the three girls after carrying them for 36 weeks. The twins were fused together by the breastbone and had attached livers. They shared a crib until 10 a.m. on May 22, when the infants were wheeled into surgery as Ketan and her husband, David Bernard, 31, watched. The next time the parents saw their daughters—10 hours after surgery and recovery—they wept to see them resting in separate cribs.
The two sisters had faced each other since birth, but recuperated in separate beds in the facility’s neonatal intensive care unit. They were ready to be discharged 12 days after surgery.
“We anticipate Marian and Michelle will recover fully and go on to lead healthy and happy lives,” Ford said in a statement.
According to Lorenzo Benet, Director of Media Relations for the Marketing Communications Department Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, conjoined twins occur in roughly 1 in 200,000 births and omphalopagus twins represent about 30 percent of all conjoined twin births. As triplets, these girls are considered even rarer, occurring 1 in an estimated 1 million births.
Given the next opportunity, both Tran and Dizon said they are eager to volunteer their expertise.
“It was sad to leave them, but we felt good knowing that we left them in good hands. A few members of the team stayed behind. Not only was this the first time this procedure had been conducted in Haiti, but as we were doing it we were teaching the Haitians how to do this. In the end, leaving was bittersweet,” Tran said. “I will always look for opportunities to give back. Wanting to help people is why I became a nurse.”