Facebook Twitter



It was a scary sight.

Cobwebs cast an eeriedrape over large willowy plants, while plastic spiders danced gleefully from leaf to leaf. A (rubber) human hand, caught in the piano top, appeared eager to snatch an intruding musician. Pumpkins, anxious to become jack-o'-lanterns, lurked in the corner.Obviously, Patricia Hansen takes Halloween seriously.

But it wasn't a witches' brew, or even carmel apples, that the young mother of five was whipping up in the kitchen over the weekend. It was a birthday cake.

Halloween takes a back seat at David and Patricia Hansen's home in northern Utah to the birthday parties of twins who reside there.

Elisa and Lisa Hansen, Utah's formerly conjoined twins, will turn 11 Tuesday. And they have a lot to celebrate.

The Hansens' dream of a normal family life has taken giant steps forward since the girls became two individuals.

It's been nine years since a team of 20 surgeons, nurses, technicians and other specialists at the University of Utah Medical Center successfully separated the 19-month-old girls whose lives had been joined since birth.

Today the sisters still share a special bond, despite their distinctly different personalities.

"Lisa's more passive; is contented more easily," Patricia Hansen said. "Elisa (who likes to be called Elise, and doesn't hesitate to tell you so) is really determined, bold. She has a lot of enthusiasm and keeps us in line. She's definitely the more aggressive of the two."

Their differences, Hansen said, also are reflected in their toys. Elise loves Barbies, while Lisa favors a special doll that arrived from the North Polelast Christmas.

She wanted a doll that resembles herself, and Santa naturally obliged.

Peeking from beneath the tree Christmas morning was a talking doll, sitting tall in a miniature wheelchair, wearing glasses and leg braces - just like the excited little girl who discovered her.

Lisa suffers more serious neurological impairment as a result of the 1979 surgery that separated the girls who were born joined at the top of the head. She likely always will depend on a wheelchair for mobility. Elise wears a leg brace to help compensate for a weakness on her right side. That too always will be her constant companion.

And both can count on more surgery.

Through a new, innovative technique, cranial facial surgeon Louis Morales Jr. is restoring hair to the bald areas only partially covered by the twins' long, golden tresses. The procedure involves inserting an expandable plastic bag under the scalp where hair is currently growing. The bag is increased in size by saline, injected over several months. The expanded skin flap is then used to cover the defected area where hair follicles were killed by the twins' surgical separation.

This winter Elise and Lisa also will return to their home away from home - the U. Medical Center - where specialists will build their skulls. Only then can they discard the protective helmets (and bonnets to cover them) that have become part of their daily attire.

There've been other changes in their lives. Both are attending special education classes in regular schools. Lisa's in fifth grade at Farmington Elementary, Elise at Cook Elementary in Sunset.

"They are doing well, but they are behind and are really struggling," Hansen said. "But they love school and have fun there. In fact, Lisa cries if for some reason or another she can't go to school."

Their lives, overall, have become more normal.

Gone are the hordes of reporters who, following the historic surgery, publicized the Hansen's once-private lives in newspapers, magazines and on television screens around the world.

But David and Patricia Hansen, who have given the twins three siblings - Shaylyn, 9; Josh, 4; Nichole, 2 - don't begrudge the media attention. If she had it to do over, Patricia Hansen says she'd involve the press in her twins' lives again.

"It was nice that people could read the newspaper and find out about the twins so we could go somewhere and didn't have so much explaining to do," said Hansen, her eyes filling with tears.

"People generally have been so concerned. It was neat because we felt like people really cared - they cared what happened to our kids. In fact, I remember one time hearing a reporter on one of the television stations say, `Lets see how our twins are doing.' It meant a lot."

Utah's twins, Patricia said, "are doing fine." Essentially in their day-to-day activities, they're just normal little 11-year-old girls.