When a baby girl was born in Ivory Coast, on the west coast of Africa, everything seemed normal at first. Her mother chose to call her Dominique. On closer inspection, though, it was clear that there was something extraordinary about the baby girl.
As soon as she was born, it was obvious to the doctors that Dominique was an unusual baby. For one, something could be seen poking out from behind her head. But what they found there was truly unbelievable.
Protruding out from behind Dominique’s neck was what appeared to be a foot. Looking closer, however, doctors could see that there wasn’t just a foot but also two legs. And they appeared to be growing out of the baby’s back.
Dominique was diagnosed with an extremely rare condition. The legs growing out of her body actually belonged to a partially-formed parasitic twin, and this conjoined twin was completely dependent on Dominique’s organs.
Indeed, if doctors didn’t operate on Dominique, she wouldn’t be able to live a full life; furthermore, it would be sure to jeopardize her future and her health. And she needed expert medical care because the complicated procedure was not going to be easy.
Dominique’s condition – known as “parasitic rachipagus” – is so rare that there have been no more than 30 cases ever documented. It’s no surprise, then, that her story caught the attention of the media, not to mention Ohio charity Children’s Medical Mission West. This charity would play a fundamental role in Dominique’s next step: surgery in the U.S.
Before long, Children’s Medical Mission West had organized a trip stretching thousands of miles across the world, from Ivory Coast to Chicago. Little Dominique made the journey with barely any belongings and arrived very jet-lagged. But on the other side, Advocate Children’s Hospital was waiting to carry out the all-important operation.
Not only that, but there were foster parents in the States excited to welcome Dominique, too. Dominique’s parents could not afford to travel with her to the U.S. and so had sent out a plea online for a Chicago-based foster family. Tim and Nancy Swabb had thereby heard of Dominique’s story and jumped to help. “It really spoke to me,” Nancy told The Washington Post. “We just wanted to open our hearts and our home to a baby.”
Once Dominique had safely arrived in the U.S., it was time for an extensive series of medical examinations. Dominique had a CAT scan, an MRI and numerous X-rays in order to help doctors better understand her condition. Moreover, the scans revealed that she wasn’t only carrying her twin’s legs but also its pelvis, bladder and spine.
In fact, her twin’s spine was tangled with her own, making for a far more complicated operation. John Ruge, one of the pediatric surgeons at the hospital in Chicago, said, “It’s as if the parasitic twin dove into Dominique’s body and almost made it in except for the waist out.”
Yet despite being in the hands of highly capable medical professionals, Dominique’s surgery didn’t take place immediately. Instead, doctors spent weeks examining Dominique; they even carried out practice surgeries on dummies. They wanted to get it right.
The reason that they were being so careful was because of the severe risks involved in the complex surgery. There was a chance that Dominique could become paralyzed during the operation. Ruge explained to The Washington Post, “If there were any traction or pressure put on Dominique’s spinal cord, that would cause her to be paralyzed.”
Meanwhile, the big day was scheduled for March 8, 2017. A team of 50 medical staff including surgeons and nurses were ready to operate on little Dominique. And from start to finish, the procedure took over six hours to complete.
Talented surgeons were able to safely remove the parasitic twin’s pelvis, legs, feet and toes. And while the removal of the twin left a substantial hole, the doctors filled it with muscle and tissue taken from the extra appendages.
The result of the surgery? It was an overwhelming success. Dominique emerged from the operating theater looking transformed. Although she had a swelling on her neck, her prognosis was good.
“Everything is functioning normally, and I expect Dominique to have a normal life,” Ruge said. In fact, she only needed five days to recover in hospital before she was allowed to go back to her foster parents’ home.
Since Dominique returned, foster mom Nancy has been caring for the infant through her recovery. Furthermore, she reported that Dominique has been doing well. “If you met her now, you’d never know she had complex surgery,” she said.
But what’s next for Dominique? What about her biological parents in Ivory Coast? Well, they are being kept up to date on their baby’s progress following the surgery, and in just a matter of weeks, Dominique will be heading back home to be reunited with her family.
The Chicago-based foster parents have a huge amount of admiration for Dominique’s birth parents, and they were touched that they had stood by her. “They sought this care for her, so it’s inspiring to hear their story of love,” Nancy said.
“She’ll always be part of our family,” Nancy told The Washington Post, adding that she feels a connection with Dominique’s birth parents. Before long, Dominique will be back in Ivory Coast, where she will be able to start a new chapter of her life. And it’s all thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and the kindness of the Chicago community.