By Frank W. Martin
Updated June 18, 1979 12:00 PM

We’ve been hoping and praying for this day,” said David Hansen. “The Lord has answered our prayers.”

It was 11:25 p.m. on May 29. Dr. Stephen Minton and social worker Erika Forte had just walked into a waiting room at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City to give David and his wife, Patricia, the joyous news: The operation to separate the Hansens’ daughters, Lisa and Elisa, Siamese twins joined at the head, was a success. “There were emotions that I don’t know how to describe—relief, letdown,” Forte recalls. “Even with 19 months of preparation, there is no way you can prepare parents for the fact that they have two separate girls.” The vigil was still not over. While three days after the 16½-hour operation the twins’ condition improved from “critical” to “serious but stable,” their status would be precarious for months.

David, 23, a supermarket management trainee, and Patricia, 22, had faced those anguished first 19 months with incredible poise, undoubtedly aided by their deep Mormon faith. Lisa and Elisa were born on October 18, 1977, six weeks premature, by cesarean section. Whisked from a hospital in Ogden, Utah to the Utah Medical Center, they were treated for two weeks by a team assembled by Minton, a neonatologist (a pediatrician specializing in newborns’ problems), and hospitalized for another month before going home. By nine months, they had adjusted to their bond—with Lisa taking the lead. “She’s the one who gets up on her knees,” David told a reporter, “and pushes Elisa around on the carpet. Elisa is content to just sit back and see what comes her way. When they want to get somewhere in a hurry, they just roll sideways. They both,” he added proudly, “say ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy.’ ”

But there were also poignant problems. “We haven’t been able to pick them up and put them on our shoulders like you would a normal baby,” said David. “When they cry, all we can do is pat them on the back.” Worse, the girls’ brains were threatening to impinge upon each other like tumors.

Early on the Hansens had agreed to a separating operation. Doctors began preparing the girls with preliminary surgery after a steel circlet, like a dental brace, had been fitted around the juncture of their heads, shrinking it by two inches. The final operation revealed the girls’ brains had grown together, and it will be several months before any damage can be assessed.

Medicaid has picked up most of the Hansens’ medical bills, $72,000 before the operation alone. (Most doctors on the surgical team donated their services; all insisted on anonymity.) The Hansens also have another daughter, born in May, for whom relatives act as babysitters.

Throughout the ordeal the Hansens faced renewed onslaughts from the concerned, the curious and the exploitative outside world. Burglars—perhaps suspecting the Hansens were profiting from all the attention—struck twice in a year and a half. The family moved four times. Media requests multiplied. One tabloid reportedly offered the Hansens a five-figure fee or a house and car for an exclusive story.

David had missed almost no days on the job until the operation. Then he and Patricia, retreating for privacy to a series of motels and university lodgings, began to face the next phase of the twins’ fight for life. As David had declared when they first decided on the separation surgery: “We want them to grow up like other girls; we’re willing to take that risk to give them full life.”