Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 27 September 2011 15:56
Twins and twin towers. An unlikely combination, yet they are interconnected in the fabric of time.
No matter what I do or where I go, I am thinking about my twin granddaughters. Fifteen months ago, they came into our lives and we are forever smitten with their intoxicating smiles and warm, inviting personalities.
Can you imagine what life would be like if they did not exist? I don’t suppose you can. They are not your children or grandchildren. However, I believe you can understand what it’s like if you have children or grandchildren, when they capture your heart and will not let go.
Grace and Lucia owe their existence to someone else. If their mother and father had not been introduced to one another, we would not have had the opportunity to welcome them into our family.
This unforgettable story begins long before Ben and Anna met on a blind date arranged by Jessica and her best friend, Bethany, the eldest of Anna’s three sisters.
Thirty-three years ago, Oct. 9, our daughter was born. Little did we know that, because of a hereditary link in our family going back more than seven generations, we would begin a journey that would take us through one medical crisis after another.
Upon receiving the doctor’s diagnosis, and after engaging in mind-numbing research to familiarize ourselves with the disorder—without the convenience of the Internet—we chose to do whatever was required to provide the best medical care for our daughter, to ensure that she would be able to live a normal life, regardless of the financial cost and sacrifice of our time.
Without reconstructive surgery, our daughter’s future would have been bleak at best. At worst, her condition would slowly worsen, year after year, eventually confining her to a wheelchair, perhaps to a bed, for the rest of her life.
At the tender age of 2 years, Jessica underwent the first of more than two dozen surgical procedures requiring a hospital stay.
Reconstructive surgery, though advanced by historical standards, was not up to the task that future operations would require. New methods had to replace the usual “break bone and add bone fragments” operation to repair crooked leg bones that would require additional breaking, straightening and re-lengthening.
By the time of her next scheduled reconstruction and extension of her leg, doctors introduced the Ilazarov fixator.
In the 1950s, Gavril Ilizarov of the Soviet Union devised and developed a new method for treating fractures, deformities and other bone defects. A metal frame that encircles the limb is attached to the underlying bone by crossing (X) pins inserted through the bone and limb. The external rings are linked to each other by threaded rods and hinges that allowed moving the position of the bone fragments without opening the fracture site, then the fragments can be fixed in rigid position until complete healing.
Legend about the development of the fixator is that Ilizarov used spare parts from a military vehicle to develop the first version. Political prisoners in Siberia were his unwilling guinea pigs.
Today, the fixator is as common as a scalpel in the surgeon’s tool box. When introduced in the United States, Jessica had the dubious distinction of being one of three patients on which the fixator was first used.
As years passed, with each ensuing reconstruction and lengthening of her leg, a common anecdote among orthopedic doctors was that she was the most photographed patient in the hospital. The photos were used as a teaching tool in classes taught at the medical center.
Though I am saddened by the use of political prisoners in an environment that more resembles a torture chamber, I cannot help but be grateful that this method of reconstructive surgery is valuable and it restores normalcy to the lives of those who have benefited from it.
Had we not made the right decisions to submit our daughter to numerous, painful reconstructive operations—as painfully difficult as it was for us to do so—not to mention if the fixator had not been developed and introduced by forward thinking medical doctors in the United States, Jessica might not have attended a university on the East Coast.
She might have missed the opportunity to find her future soul mate and three of her best friends for life. She would have missed the opportunity to get to know Anna and learn that her character that was so compatible with her brother’s.
The blind date that began a beautiful relationship between two people and culminated with their courtship and marriage, would not have taken place. Jessica would not have experienced the joy of welcoming two beautiful nieces into the world.
As a final footnote, Jessica’s journey through this medical reality took one more turn that we cannot forget. Scheduled to begin a volunteer assignment with Mennonite Central Committee in New York City the week of September 10, 2001, she could have been on a tour of downtown Manhattan, perhaps even visiting the twin towers, a normally expected agenda as they were to get acquainted with their surroundings.
However, as fate would have it, her assignment was postponed due to the need to undergo a 10-hour surgery to remove a massive tumor from her brain. The operation was scheduled for Sept. 11.
My daughter has survived every threat to her life, even while under anesthesia and while the twin towers were crumbling into dust. I cannot explain it away or say we deserved better than the people in the towers. Thousands died that fateful day while my daughter survived.
I am grateful for Jessica’s life and for the blessings that have emerged from her presence in our family. Holding our daughter and granddaughters and giving them hugs and kisses, not to mention the photos on our living room wall, is enough proof of that.