Advocate doctors help baby born with four legs, two spines
A 10-month-old born with four legs and two spines is expected to make a full recovery and lead a normal life following complex surgery at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge.
Baby Dominique, who is from the Ivory Coast in west Africa, happily waved to a room full of TV cameras and reporters Tuesday after doctors explained her extraordinary story and her unusual March 8 surgery.
Dominique was born with a parasitic conjoined twin, an extremely rare case in which one twin stops developing in utero and becomes part of the other fully developed twin.
The bottom half of the incompletely formed twin -- from the pelvis down -- fused to Dominique's neck and back. She was born with two extra legs protruding from between her shoulders, as well as a second spine and bladder.
Left untreated, Dominique would have likely been paralyzed from the extra weight on her spine, among other challenges she would face, said pediatric plastic/reconstructive surgeon Dr. Frank Vicari, one of five Advocate Children's Hospital doctors who performed the surgery. An additional 45 clinicians and nurses assisted.
"This particular case is incredibly rare and incredibly unique," Vicari said.
There were hardly any case studies they could refer to for guidance, added Dr. Robert Kellogg, the pediatric neurosurgeon who assisted with the surgery.
On March 8, after months of planning, the Advocate doctors separated and removed the extra body parts in a six-hour surgery, being careful to protect Dominique's spinal cord. They used some of the twin's thigh muscle to cover an exposed part of Dominque's spine, leaving a large bump on the back of her neck. It's expected to shrink and appear normal as she recovers and grows, the doctors said.
There were no complications during the surgery, and she doesn't even require medication, although she has a surgery scar that extends down her spine.
"It gives us all great satisfaction that we were able to help this child," said Advocate pediatric and adult orthopedic spine surgeon Eric Belin.
The cost of Dominique's surgery and care was not tabulated, but hospital President Mike Farrell said it will be covered by the hospital's charitable arm, which handles about four to six special cases a year.
Dominique came to the U.S. through Children's Medical Mission West, an Ohio-based charity that helps children from all over the world in need of specialized surgeries. Advocate's pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. John Ruge, discovered Dominique through that charity and brought her case to the hospital's attention.
Along with Ruge, Vicari, Kellogg and Belin, pediatric plastic/reconstructive surgeon Jordan P. Steinberg also assisted with the surgery.
"We knew we had the team and talent to successfully care for her," Ruge said. "The stars all aligned."
The charity paid for Dominique's flights from Ivory Coast to Chicago, while her parents and siblings stayed behind. The charity posted on Facebook that it was seeking a foster family near Park Ridge to care for her before and after the surgery. That post was shared, which is how Nancy and Tim Swabb of Chicago's Edgebrook neighborhood heard about it.
On a Tuesday, Nancy posted, "Do they have a host family yet?" and by that Saturday, Dominique was in their home.
"It was a quickly made decision, but something we really felt in our gut," she said, adding that her friends immediately bombarded them with donations of diapers, formula and other baby supplies. "We just kept thinking about her family, far, far away trusting us ... but she was cared for and she was loved. It's been an honor to be her host family."
Swabb, who along with her husband, Tim, have 9- and 15-year-old adopted children, teared up Tuesday while describing what it must have been like for Dominique's parents to put their baby on a plane, not knowing if they'd ever see her again or who would be taking care of her.
When she arrived in February, Dominique was a happy baby but couldn't roll over, raise her hands, or sit up well, because it was too hard for her to balance, Swabb said. She can do all of those things now, and even has two new teeth.
The Swabbs and the hospital provided regular updates and photos of Dominique to the charity, which had them translated into French and relayed to her family in Ivory Coast. Dominique will be returning home to live with them in the next few weeks. The Swabbs hope to visit her there one day.
"We expect her to make a full recovery and live a normal life from here on out," Dr. Kellogg said. "She'll just need to practice being a little girl."