Famous Neurosurgeon, Dr. James Goodrich, Known For Separating Conjoined Twins, Dies From C...

“Goodrich helped lay the foundation for how surgeons operate on twins conjoined at the skull.”

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Arlene Aguirre gave birth to two conjoined twin boys, Clarence and Carl, in the Philippines in 2003. The boys were conjoined at the head, and due to how complex and intertwined the two boys were internally, doctors told Arlene that only one child could survive and she would have to choose when it came time for surgery; something she obviously refused to do. 

Instead, she flew her boys to New York to meet with famous pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. James Goodrich. After four surgeries that took place over the course of two years, Goodrich and his team were able to separate the boys, despite them being fused at the brain with multiple veins tangled together. At the time, Arlene spoke with the media and told them that Goodrich gave her the “greatest gift of seeing my boys separated and giving them whole new lives.”

Goodrich unfortunately passed away this March at the age of 73 due to the coronavirus. He was most famously known for separating conjoined twins, as Carl and Clarence aren’t the only two who have benefited from Goodrich’s vast knowledge on pediatric neurosurgery. He directly helped separate 10 sets of twins, but has worked as an adviser on countless other cases. He worked at New York’s Montefiore medical center for 30 years, and was continuing to work there when he became initially infected. He’s now remembered as a trailblazer in separation surgeries for conjoined twins.

“Goodrich helped lay the foundation for how surgeons operate on twins conjoined at the skull. By carefully documenting cases and explaining his methodology, he took it from one odd case that people tried to work on and brought some science to it,” Dr Gregory Heuer, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said.

Goodrich also specialized in medical conditions that affected the skull, and worked on many innovations to help combat these conditions. For example, one of his accomplishments credits him as developing the standard for treating craniosynostosis; a common condition in children that occurs when the bones in their skull fuses too soon, which prevents the bran from growing at a steady rate. 

According to Heuer, “before 40 years ago, no one did this surgery [for craniosynostosis], and if they did, they did it poorly,” but now, thanks to innovators like Goodrich, many children with this condition make full recoveries. 

His loved ones remember him as an avid collector of antique medical books and pre-Colombian medical artifacts. He had a deep fascination with the creation of medicine/medical devices throughout history and how some of the world’s smartest minds were able to come up with them. He also loved collecting rare watched, fine wines, and had an extensive bonsai tree garden.

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“Goodrich had a soothing bedside manner, many people, upon first meeting him, would say his presence was so calming that they knew it was the right decision to leave their child in his hands,” said Kamilah Dowling, a nurse practitioner who worked with him for years.

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Goodrich served in the marines and fought in the Vietnam War as well. When he returned from the war he met his wife, Judy, who he remained married to for 50 years. Despite being such a phenomenal pediatric neurosurgeon, Goodrich actually struggled a lot in school growing up, and didn’t begin his undergraduate schooling until his mid-twenties. Because of this his medical training extended into his 40’s, so him and his wife never had a child of their own since Goodrich knew he wouldn’t be around enough to watch them grow up.

However, even though he never had a child of his own, Goodrich got that same emotional fulfillment through saving the lives of countless other children. “He was totally taken by wanting to help children who had facial abnormalities or deformities [by] making their lives better,” his wife recalled. He would often stay in touch with his patients and their families for years after surgery to check in on how the kids were doing. 

He also was never selfish with his developments, and was always ready to share his newfound knowledge with his younger counterparts so they could apply it into their own practices. “I could call at any time with any problem, and he always had an experienced opinion to help me with, Goodrich defied the brain-surgeon stereotype. Many neurosurgeons take themselves very seriously. Their entire life and identity is consumed by the field. Jim was just the opposite. He was a recognized expert in all kinds of other areas,” said Paul Kanev, a pediatric neurosurgeon with Connecticut children’s medical center, who was trained by Goodrich. 

The hospital that Goodrich worked at held a two-hour vigil honoring his life and its many accomplishments. The vigil had people come from all areas of the world as they paid their respects to the doctor from a distance. As for Arlene and her twin boys, Carl and Clarence recently celebrated their 18th birthday, and Arlene took to Facebook to post a photo of her boys with Goodrich and praised the late doctor for being “the greatest person in our lives,” she also expressed her frustration at losing him due to a virus that we know nothing about. However, if one thing is certain, it’s that Goodrich’s work will go down in medical history, so much so that one day an avid collector of historical medical books will likely pick up one about the amazing innovations and contributions Doctor James Goodrich made for pediatric neurosurgery.