A Q&A with Marty Knott, D.O., Ph.D.: AmieLynn’s Primary Surgeon
By Jean Yaeger
Marty Knott, D.O., Ph.D. was AmieLynn’s primary surgeon. Although this was his first time to separate conjoined twins, Dr. Knott brought experience in operating on chest wall deformities, congenital malformations of the abdomen and chest, abdominal wall defects, tumors, bowels and vascular anomalies. He has worked for Cook Children’s for seven years.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with Dr. Knott prior to the twins’ separation.
It sounds like the area where these girls are joined is where you work quite a bit. Exactly. That's the interesting thing about it. The actual surgery parts, if you break them down, are things that we do very commonly -- liver surgery and closing abdominal defects in newborn babies. So a lot of the techniques and the skills and experience from other places can all be combined into this unique situation. The actual procedures themselves are pretty common.
How did you prepare specifically for this surgery? We have been meeting within our group but also with other subspecialties such as anesthesia and plastic surgery, as well as all of the different components of the operating room team, such as the certified scrub techs, OR nurses and the anesthesia techs. It's one of those things where you have a huge team that comes together and everybody plays their role individually to make things happen. And then there's individual preparation by reviewing the scans and charts and the things that they've gone through so far, to just know what things might come up on that day.
Potentially what’s the biggest challenge? The liver separation part's going to be tedious. But the biggest issue is probably going to be getting their abdominal cavities closed and covered safely, because they do have a shared area from their lower sternum down to their belly button area that is open, meaning there's some separation of the muscle and the skin. Just finding effective ways to get that closed once the division has occurred is probably the most hard-to-predict part. For me that feels like the biggest unknown challenge. Everything else is relatively straightforward.
There are different techniques we use. We have babies that are born with other abdominal wall defects that aren't conjoined who still need some sort of either permanent or temporary closure. We're going to use some of those techniques that we use in other situations for them too. We’re just trying to figure out what's best and preparing for a variety of different options so that once we actually get them separated, we'll be able to know how best to close those abdominal wall defects or those openings so that the intestines, the liver and the heart are all covered safely.
While they're still conjoined, how does everyone who needs to be there fit around the table? There's a lot of people involved, and the table's not very big. To start with, it'll be Dr. Iglesias and I, and then we have two scrub techs that'll be scrubbed into the operation at the beginning. Our plastic surgeons are there as well. It'll be Dr. Iglesias and I until the babies are separated and then we form into two big full teams after that, one for Amie including Drs. Hamner and Hubli, one for Jamie including Drs. Lodwick and Gbulie. That will be another set of at least four people around the table for each of us.
Someone steps up, someone steps back? Mostly like that, kind of scooting over and leaning. Most of the time we'll stay on our set sides. Typically, Dr. Iglesias will be on the right side and I will be on the left. We'll just work around that and figure out where everybody fits best.
Normally you operate on only one patient at a time and you can position that patient as needed. Can you speak a little bit about the fact that you may not be able to roll Amie the way you want her, because Jamie's there? They've lived most of the time on the sides where, if you're looking from their feet, Amie will be on the left and Jamie will be on the right. That's their baseline or most common position. So that's where we're going to have them during the surgery because that fits best for what they've tolerated so far. There are definitely some limitations. I always say this: In surgery we try to use other experiences and techniques to fit into unusual situations. There's a lot of different surgeries where positioning has to change throughout the operation for us to be able to get it completed.
We're having to make some modifications within the surgery to where we can move them around a little and use different angles to get portions of the procedure completed safely. We'll use all of our experience and ideas from other situations that are more common to make that happen. But there are definitely some limitations in being able to do things as freely as we want to. Most of what we need to do while they're still joined will be pretty easy to do from the position that is most natural for them.
How long do you think it might take? Longer than expected, just with logistics of everything. Even though we've practiced multiple times, it'll be different on the real day. What I always tell parents when they ask: It'll take as long as it's necessary to get the thing completed safely. I have a timeline in my mind of how things are going to go, but I don't want to put it out there because it doesn't really matter. It's going to take as long as necessary to get them separated and keep them safe the whole time. We're planning for on an all-day event by the time everything's done.
What would you say to your colleagues at Cook Children’s? This is one of those cool examples where everybody in the hospital gets to come together and participate. A lot of what we do gets kind of divided into little chunks where there's not much interaction between us. This has required a lot of coordination from NICU, to the nurses who know them well, the respiratory therapists, the anesthesiologists, the surgeons, the plastic surgeons and all our staff. Everybody's getting to play a pretty important role, and I hope that everybody sees the importance of what they do on a day-to-day basis.
Anything else? We're all looking forward to it and just asking for prayers that everything goes perfectly and that they recover well.