VCU School of the Arts presents ‘The Tapia Twins: Bringing Together Arts & Medicine’

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The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts will open its newest venue with an exhibition that highlights the cross-disciplinary collaboration that made the lives of a pair of conjoined twins easier before and after surgery.

“The Tapia Twins: Bringing Together Arts & Medicine” displays the joint innovations of doctors, faculty and students from the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR), the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU School of the Arts in supporting conjoined twins Maria and Teresa Tapia. The exhibition opens Sept. 5 at The Depot —a 107-year-old former trolley station that now houses VCU School of the Arts’ flexible interdisciplinary workspaces — at 814 W. Broad St., with a reception at 5 p.m., and runs through Oct. 26. The event is free and open to the public. The twins and their mother will attend opening night.

“We are excited about this upcoming exhibition focusing on health care and the arts at VCU, especially the focus on the great medical intervention for the Tapia twins and how VCUarts played a part in the process,” said Joe Seipel, dean of the VCU School of the Arts. “The connection between our schools of Medicine and the Arts and the medical center is ever evolving into a national model for this kind of valuable collaboration.”

In November 2011, a team of VCU pediatric surgeons successfully completed the separation of the then-19-month-old twins, who are from the Dominican Republic, after a complex, 20-hour procedure led by David Lanning, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Surgery and surgeon-in-chief for the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and about 45 physicians and pediatric subspecialists who volunteered their time.

The planning and support for Maria and Teresa extended beyond the medical community as several individuals and groups within VCU offered the twins their expertise. This included custom dresses created by the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising; a plaster body casting mold made by a VCU sculpture student to assist plastic surgeons in determining the best way to cosmetically care for the twins after separation; and a special car seat large enough to accommodate the twins for comfortable vehicle travel, which was designed by a VCU occupational therapist who also is a certified car seat technician.

“There was a real tangible and practical benefit for the twins in our collaboration with the School of the Arts,” Lanning said. “Not just in the physical casting and molding, but also psychologically. It was not only an emotional boost for the girls, but for their mother and care providers as well. The community really rallied around these girls. It was an amazing contribution to their care.”

These innovative collaborations were essential to the project’s success. Curated by art history Ph.D. student Owen Duffy, “The Tapia Twins” exhibition highlights this interdisciplinary triumph through objects and documentation from the twins’ incredible journey.

The World Pediatric Project – an organization that links worldwide pediatric surgical, diagnostic and preventative resources to critically ill children in developing countries — brought the twins to VCU for their initial evaluation. In 2010, as a result of strong hospital partnerships within Central America and the Caribbean, WPP learned of the then-conjoined Tapia twins. As a result, the organization presented the twins' case to longtime hospital partner CHoR and trusted WPP volunteer surgeon Lanning. Upon CHoR's acceptance of the twins' case, WPP transported the twins and their mother to Richmond, Virginia, and, with the help of countless volunteers, supporters and the Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, supported the twins both during and after their medical journey.

"We are extremely pleased to see our twins healthy and happy at 4 years old,” said Susan Rickman, president of WPP. “Maria and Teresa are not only a testament to the dedication and expertise of our medical volunteers, but also to the extraordinary accomplishments that can be made when people work together in philanthropic spirit."

WPP and The Hospital Hospitality House are hosting a reception for the twins Thursday, Sept. 4, at the HHH, 612 E. Marshall St., from 3:30 to 5 p.m. R.S.V.P. to