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Surgeon, twins he saved are reunited

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


TAMPA -- Tommy Simpson was stationed in Guam with the Air Force when his wife, Stephanie, learned the twins she was carrying suffered from a life-threatening condition.

They flew to a specialist in Kyoto, Japan. That doctor recommended they see Dr. Ruben Quintero at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa for fetal laser surgery.

Quintero saw them again Saturday, when the Simpsons and their healthy, 15-month-old twins were among the 52 families who came to Tampa from all over the country for a reunion with the surgeon who saved their children's lives.

Quintero began treating fetal problems in 1996. Saturday, more than 100 of his patients and their parents showed up at the Lowry Park Zoo for a picnic to celebrate the success of his treatments.

The crowd included 15 sets of twins and one set of triplets. Parents who had supported each other through e-mails and phone calls met face to face. Film crews from Good Morning America and the Discovery Channel also were there.

"This is the product of our work," Quintero said, surveying the infants and toddlers feasting on hot dogs, baked beans and brownies. "It's thrilling. In most cases, all these children would have been lost."

Many of the twins had suffered from twin-twin transfusion syndrome, in which too much blood flows to one fetus and not enough to the other. Traditional treatment of draining excess fluid with repeated amniocentesis results in a survival rate of 60 percent at best for at least one baby.

Quintero, however, developed a method using endoscopic laser surgery to pinpoint and treat the blood vessels involved. The survival rate is 80 percent for one baby, and up to 50 percent for both.

Maureen and Phil Imbrescia came from Boston with their 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, and her baby sisters, 7-month-old twins Sophia and Sydney.

When the Imbrescia twins were diagnosed with the transfusion syndrome, their parents were given two choices: abort both children or try repeated amniocentesis, which is associated with a higher risk of cerebral palsy.

Phil Imbrescia got on the Internet. Quintero's site was the second one he looked at.

Their doctor in Boston tried to discourage them, they said, by saying Quintero's treatment was experimental.

But their HMO okayed it and even paid for their plane tickets and hotel.

Saturday, the strawberry-blond twins were decked out in matching white eyelet dresses trimmed with pink ribbons.

Their blue eyes and pink cheeks glowed with health.

"We look at them every day with amazement," said Maureen Imbrescia, 32.

For more information on fetal therapy, check Dr. Ruben Quintero's Web site at www.fetalmd.com.

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