Physical Therapy '00
In October 2003, the world learned the story of Mohamed and Ahmed Ibrahim, Egyptian twin boys conjoined at birth two years earlier. The brothers had been brought to the U.S. for the extensive, specialized surgery that would enable them to live separately. After more than 33 hours of surgery at Medical City Dallas Hospital, doctors were able to separate the boys, who were joined at the head in a condition known as craniopagus, which occurs about once in 2.5 million births. The twins’ ordeal made international headlines.
Following the surgery, the twins faced a long road to recovery: reorienting, and learning basic skills from scratch. It was at this point that Kristen DeMura ’00 came into their lives. Only four years after receiving her B.S. degree in physical therapy with honors from Daemen, and after graduating in 2004 from Daemen’s doctorate in physical therapy program, Kristen has already experienced, in her own words, “a dream come true.”
Through a series of circumstances she believes were ultimately God-directed, Kristen came to play a life-changing role in the amazing recovery of Mohamed and Ahmed. Kristen has described this as an opportunity to make a truly dramatic difference in the lives of these now nearly four-year-old boys. She has been quoted and pictured in press reports around the world, but it’s not the publicity that drives her.
At the time Kristen spoke with Daemen Today, the twins were undergoing intense physical therapy, arriving four days a week at Medical City Dallas Hospital (MCDH), where Kristen is a pediatric outpatient physical therapist. Medically stable by then, Ahmed and Mohamed were nevertheless facing the physical and mental challenges of catching up to the normal development of children their age.
Indeed, says Kristen, “They had to go back and learn how to do everything right from the beginning: roll over, sit up, crawl, stand up, and eventually walk.”
What brought Kristen, born and raised in Buffalo, to Dallas, Texas, to a historical place in the recovery of two Egyptian conjoined twins, whose story will surely remain the talk of the medical world for generations to come?
In a word, it started with Daemen.
After receiving her undergraduate degree and some work experience, she moved to Dallas with her husband, Chad, an engineer, who had landed a job with General Motors. Kristen actually commuted between Texas and New York to work toward her DPT.
After some valuable Buffalo-area experience in her new profession, she took a position at MCDH in March of 2004, having no idea she’d have anything to do with the now famous twins’ treatment. They’ve been under the care of Dr. Kenneth Salyer, who founded the World Craniofacial Foundation. Dr. Salyer was originally contacted in 2001 by the boys’ medical guardians, and was asked to evaluate them for what was destined to be historic separation surgery.
In March of 2004 (coincidentally, the same month and year Kristen joined MCDH), the twins were discharged from inpatient status and became physical therapy outpatients, living with their parents in their temporary apartment in town. Their permanent home is a small town about 500 miles from Cairo, Egypt. The four of them, plus a special Egyptian nurse, have been a long way from home for more than two years now.
But Kristen never felt more at home, privileged to become a part of the boys’ recovery team.
“We took them through a development sequence, which a normal baby would go through,” explains Kristen. “Our personal goal for them, before they return to Egypt, is to have them walking without an assistive device.”
Walking seemed such a distant prospect at first, Kristen recalls. “It’s just amazing. It seemed so far off, but now we’re there,” she enthused in a January interview. “Ahmed is walking with the aid of a walker, while Mohamed is walking independently.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” says Kristen, talking about the children’s remarkable recovery. “It’s a miracle.”
While it may have been miraculous in many ways, it also called upon the considerable skills of Kristen and a fellow physical therapist. “Daemen College provided me with a good foundation to base my knowledge from,” notes Kristen, who had developed a specialty in neuro-developmental treatment. She received early hands-on experience in pediatric-oriented physical therapy while working in the Sweet Home Central School District for three years.
It’s hard to tell whether there’s been any brain impairment, Kristen explained, since the boys’ neurological systems are still developing (they were scheduled to undergo skull reconstructive surgery at the time Kristen was interviewed for this article). Plus, there was the language barrier the PTs had to deal with. The boys’ language is delayed, meaning they talk in two-and three-word phrases vs. complete sentences.
“But both have been living a really fulfilled life,” beams Kristen, about whom it would be no exaggeration to say she’s fallen in love with her special young patients. “They make significant progress each month. They’re always doing something new. It’s been a huge motivator, knowing we’re making a difference in their lives. It’s so rewarding. It pushes you to keep going further.
“It has also been a lot of hard work, with intense therapy and follow-up,” she adds. “There were days when we felt we were getting nowhere. It’s been baby steps and then it was coming all along. It’s a wonderful feeling. And the chance of a lifetime. I feel like I’ve been blessed.”