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Inexplicably Yours

Writer Gary Logan first approached us last June about doing a story on the surgical separation of conjoined twins Lea and Tabea Block. The babies had just arrived from Germany with their parents and were to spend the summer being prepped for the extremely complicated brain surgery that was intended to give them a chance at living separate, independent lives.

What struck all of us at that point — as we looked at pictures of them smiling, babbling, eating their lunch, reaching out to mom and dad — was just how normal the girls seemed, despite the fact that they were joined at the top of their heads. Gary had already conducted a dozen interviews with members of the medical team who would undertake the marathon surgery, and he was realistic about the potential outcome. There was a strong possibility that one or both babies could die in the operating room.

Parents Peter and Nelly Block knew this reality but were prepared to move ahead. And so were we. Gary grappled with the question of how best to cover a story that would stretch over six months, involve a cast of characters numbering several dozen, and deal with highly technical subject matter.

"At some point it occurred to me that the way to tell this story was to report the surgery as it happened, to take the reader into the operating room, to experience the challenges confronting the surgeons and the team firsthand," Gary recalled later. And so he stationed himself in the observation room with laptop in hand. There, he followed the surgery as it played out on two large-screen monitors and got the play by play from anesthesiologists, surgeons, and nurses as they munched on sandwiches on their breaks and followed the team's progress over the course of two different days. Photographer Keith Weller was there as well, in the operating room, to make a visual chronicle of the events as they unfolded.

For Gary, the Block family's story officially ended when he watched them leave in December to return home to Germany. But he told me that the experience has stayed with him — in his dreams, in his work as associate director of communications and public affairs at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, in his role as dad. (An identical twin himself, Gary's two youngest, age 7, are fraternal twins.) Members of the Johns Hopkins medical team, as you'll read in "Separate Fates", have also found it difficult to bring closure to the intense months they spent with Lea and Tabea, Peter and Nelly.

Says Gary of the Blocks: "They entered my life in an inexplicable way."

May they enter yours as well.

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to February 2004 Table of Contents

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