It’s often said that twins share similar traits and have unique bonds that other siblings simply don’t have. Sometimes those traits are things one would rather not share with their twin, especially when it comes to a potentially life-threatening medical condition.
Linda Foster and Brenda Santinelli, 60-year-old twin sisters from Pensacola, Fla., are active women with a love of the outdoors. Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and other activities were well-suited to both their lifestyles. Both sisters are in long-term marriages. Both have young grandchildren. They even both have 20-plus-year careers at Walmart in their hometown. Both were former smokers who quit several years ago.
Most 13-year-old girls wouldn't see having a scar down the middle of their chests as cool. Lola Montilla, however, is not your average 13-year-old girl. When she looks at the scar on her chest from the surgery she had at Mayo Clinic to repair the Ebstein’s anomaly heart defect she was born with, she says it serves as a reminder that what doesn't kill us does indeed make us stronger.
"I really, really like my scar," Lola says, from her home in Puerto Rico. "Every time I look at it, it makes me think, 'Wow, I really did go through this, and I'm now back here at home.'"
Her mom, Mari Serrano-Montilla, says she and her husband learned that Lola would be born with Ebstein’s anomaly -- a rare heart defect that causes blood to leak back through the tricuspid valve, forcing the heart to work much harder than normal -- late in her pregnancy. "Our doctors here in Puerto Rico said she might need surgery, but it was a matter of just seeing how much progress she made," she says.
Outside of not being able to participate in competitive sports in school or go on any of "the cool rides" when her family visited Disney World, Lola lived the first 12 years of her life without much complication or difficulty. But then, just before her 13th birthday, things began to change.
Benny Andújar has traveled a long way from his native Utuado, Puerto Rico, to tell an important story.
“Cancer doesn’t always send a warning,” Andújar says about his experience with a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. A routine endoscopy gave him the information he needed to unmask esophageal cancer before it developed. “When they did the endoscopy they discovered I had Barrett’s esophagus,” recalls Andújar. His doctor referred him to gastroenterologists at Mayo Clinic.
Andújar, who retired from detective work with a New York police department and now lives in Orange Park, Florida, visited Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, for state-of-the art treatment to correct the lining of his esophagus before cancer cells began to propagate.
Hildred "Peggy" Lyons' first signs of liver problems occurred back in 1968, around the time of her son's birth, when her physician noticed she had elevated liver enzymes. An otherwise healthy woman who worked and also volunteered as a fitness instructor at her church teaching several classes a day to both adults and children, Lyons dismissed it as pregnancy-related and didn’t gave it much thought for the next 30 years.
Unfortunately, her liver problems resurfaced right around the time she retired from her job at Proctor and Gamble in 1998. Lyons was told by her physician in her hometown of Albany, Ga., that her liver enzymes were more seriously elevated and that she should see a specialist for a diagnosis. He also told her to cut back teaching her exercise classes, something she was reluctant to do. After going to a medical center in Atlanta for an evaluation of her condition, she was left wondering what her next steps were as she grew progressively ill without any answers.
Lyons turned to her church for support, where her pastor and fellow members prayed and fasted, hoping for an answer. On the last day of a 30-day fast, her pastor received a call from "a total stranger" in her community who said, "The answer is in Jacksonville, Fla., at the Mayo Clinic."