Baby born with 4 legs reunited with family in Africa after surgery
Team of surgeons at Park Ridge hospital removed Ivory Coast girl's extra legs, spine and bladder
Dominique, the baby born with four legs and two spines who underwent complex surgery at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge in March, is back home with her family in Africa.
The hospital released a video Wednesday of the April 20 reunion of Dominique and her parents and three sisters at Abidjan International Airport in Ivory Coast. In it, Dominique's tearful parents thanked the American doctors and charity who helped their daughter.
"I never thought that I'd see my daughter like this today. ... It really is a miracle," her mother says in French on the video. "Thank you to the American people who helped my little Dominique, who allowed her to have a normal life, like other children."
It brought tears to the eyes of Nancy and Tim Swabb, the Chicago residents who cared for Dominique in the weeks before and after the surgery.
"It was hard to say goodbye," Nancy Swabb said Wednesday. "She is the most special child."
Dominique, who turns 1 May 13, 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. Her life span also would have been shortened by the extra pressure on her heart and lungs, doctors said, and she would face social challenges.
Five Advocate Children's Hospital doctors on March 8 performed the surgery, paid for through the hospital's charity.
While complex and risky, the six-hour surgery was a success, and they removed the extra legs, spine and bladder.
Dominique came to the U.S. through Children's Medical Mission West, an Ohio-based charity that flies children all over the world to hospitals for specialized surgeries. It's how Advocate's pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. John Ruge, discovered Dominique.
Ruge said Wednesday he's happy Dominique was healthy enough to return home to her family.
"I'm so proud of our surgical team and the impact we have had on little Dominique's life. It is why we do what we do every day," he said.
The Swabbs, who live in Chicago's Edgebrook neighborhood, sent Dominique home with many of the clothes and toys people donated, along with an album of more than 250 photos, with captions translated into French.
The Swabbs also hosted an early birthday party for her that was attended by more than 100 people, including many on the hospital staff.
"She had such a big group of people who loved her," Nancy Swabb said.
When the time came to hand Dominique over, Nancy said, they purposely put her in her stroller so she wasn't facing them when she was rolled away by her flight escort.
"I didn't want to have her reaching for me," Nancy Swabb said, breaking down in tears. "The last sight we had of her were her little wiggling feet in the stroller."
Every night before she goes to bed, Nancy takes a little heart necklace that Dominique wore and rubs it against her cheek. She also keeps photos of Dominique in the house, including her favorite, which is of Dominique's hand with an IV taped to it, grabbing Nancy's finger.
On Tuesday, Nancy received a Facebook message from Dominique's father, who sent some new photos and thanked her again.
"He said, 'Thank you infinitely, and God keep you indefinitely,'" she said.
The Swabbs have created an account, YouCaring.com/Baby Dominique, to raise money so more children can have access to medical care.
"Many more children will have their lives changed because of (Dominique), and that's our lasting gift to her for her first birthday," Nancy said. The Swabbs don't know if they'll ever see her again, but they hope they will.
"She will forever be in our hearts," Nancy said.