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New York neurosurgeon who separated conjoined twins dies from complications of Covid-19

In a CNN Exclusive, Dr. Sanjay Gupta followed the remarkable surgery of 13-month-old twins that were conjoined at the head, but are now separated.

Posted: Mar 31, 2020 8:00 AM
Updated: Mar 31, 2020 8:00 AM

Dr. James T. Goodrich, the neurosurgeon who allowed CNN inside a remarkable operation to separate twins Jadon and Anias McDonald, died on Monday after complications related to Covid-19, according to the hospital where he worked.

"Dr. Goodrich was a beacon of our institution and he will be truly missed," said Montefiore Medicine CEO Dr. Philip O. Ozuah. "His expertise and ability were second only to his kind heart and manner."

The hospital described Goodrich as a "humble and truly caring man" who "did not crave the limelight and was beloved by his colleagues and staff." They spoke of his skills as a neurosurgeon, but also of his spirit, including how he baked cookies during the holidays and hand-delivered them to nurses.

"Jim was in many ways the heart and soul of our department - a master surgeon, a world-class educator, and a beloved colleague for all," Dr. Emad Eskandar, chair of the department of neurosurgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center said. "His sudden loss is heart-breaking and his memory will always remain foremost in our thoughts."

The hospital called Goodrich a pioneer in the field of helping children with complex neurological conditions; he developed a multi-stage approach for separating craniopagus twins, like Jadon and Anias McDonald, who were fused at the brain and skull.

Goodrich was thrust into the spotlight in 2004 when he operated on Carl and Clarence Aguirre, twins from the Philippines who shared about 8 centimeters of brain tissue. In 2016, Goodrich led a team of 40 doctors in a 27-hour surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx to separate Anias and Jadon, who were 13 months old when they were separated. CNN was in the operating room with Goodrich and the team as the boys were separated.

It marked the seventh separation surgery performed by Goodrich -- and just the 59th craniopagus separation surgery in the world since 1952.

The doctor, with his tufts of gray hair and beard, was known for his incredible skill with his hands, but also his heart. He kept in touch often with patients he operated on. Families spoke about how he would never forget the children's birthdays, and always be there for those special milestones, ones he helped make possible.

Separating conjoined twins is "actually pretty awesome," he told CNN before the McDonald brothers' operation. "It's chaotic ...

"We've got it down to a fine art, but in the beginning, it was a bit of a challenge."

Goodrich, who was in this 70s, spent more than 30 years at Montefiore Einstein and was the director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Montefiore and a professor of clinical neurological surgery, pediatrics, plastic and reconstructive surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Goodrich was originally from Oregon and served as a Marine during the Vietnam war, Montefiore Einstein said, and he was known for his passion for historical artifacts, travel and surfing. He is survived by his wife and three sisters.

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