They needed his skills as a surgeon but the bond between conjoined twins and Portales native Dr. Stuart Lacey is now more than professional.
Lacey, a pediatric surgeon in Phoenix, said he was pleased with the 5-month-old boys’ progress after helping lead an 18-hour surgery to separate the twins. Angel and Alex Mendoza were joined facing each other from the nipples through the pelvis.
“If you meet these babies, they are so captivating, it’s almost impossible to walk away from them,” Lacey said in a statement released by the Phoenix Childrens Home. “They certainly share a chunk of my heart.
“It was a very complex operation, indeed very challenging, as were the steps leading up to the operation and as will be the care hereafter,” Lacey, 54, said.
The Arizona Republic newspaper and CBS followed the case, as have other news organizations. Lacey’s father, Don Lacey of Portales, said NBC and a German broadcasting company have also requested interviews.
The babies’ parents learned they were conjoined in May 2008, according to the hospital.
The condition occurs less than once in 200,000 births.
Shortly before the twins Aug. 13 birth, an obstretician handling high-risk pregnancies asked Lacey, a graduate of both Portales High School and Eastern New Mexico University, to help evaluate the situation.
Lacey said his first concern was whether the babies could survive. His second was what doctors could do to give them the best chance of being born alive and surviving.
During the pregnancy, a change in the twins’ appearance suggested an obstruction in their urinary system. Alex and Angel were delivered early by Caesarian section, and Lacey operated to relieve the obstruction.
Afterward, he performed about half a dozen surgeries on the boys to separate different parts of their internal systems and build parts that weren’t there in preparation for the final separation.
It was during the follow-up surgeries Lacey noticed he had grown to care for the twins.
Lacey introduced his father to the boys on Christmas Day, when Don Lacey accompanied his son on hospital rounds.
“They just would remind you of normal little boys, except for the fact that they were joined,” Don Lacey said, adding that the babies smiled and responded to people.
Stuart Lacey said there were problems both with separating the boys and leaving them joined. However, he believed studies showed the surgery wasn’t risky.
A team of seven primary surgeons plus numerous other operating room personnel worked on the boys from 7:30 a.m. Jan. 15 until 1 a.m. the next morning, Lacey said. That time included more than three hours of preparation, nine hours of separating the babies and five hours of reconstructive work after the separation.
During most of those nearly 18 hours, Lacey said, he was in the operating room. When he left for a while, he stayed nearby.
While performing the surgery, Lacey said, his thoughts concentrated on what needed to be done.
Lacey said he had never separated conjoined twins before but did all the necessary parts of the operation frequently.
“So it was more of a matter of putting a lot of different things we do regularly together for this,” he said.
After the surgery, Lacey said, Alex and Angel were sick but recovering well. He said they would probably need his services for a number of years.
“They have a lot of challenges ahead of them in many regards,” Lacey said.
The boys have issues with kidney function and will need surgery to build missing abdominal walls. Lacey doesn’t know how much lower-body function they will have.
However, he said, the babies’ brains, hearts and lungs all work normally.
Don Lacey said his son told him about checking on the twins recently and finding that Angel had been restless.
The baby apparently recognized the doctor’s voice, and Stuart Lacey held his hand for a while. Angel relaxed.
“I think there’s definitely an attachment between him and the boys,” Don Lacey said.