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Stanford University School of Medicine

Two hearts that beat as one: One twin’s fight to save her sister

"Without time to waste, I instinctively grabbed Annie, thrust the car door open and began to sprint -- with 70-pound Annie in my arms," recalled 22-year-old Julia Kramer-Golinkoff in a moving speech on the Stanford Medicine X stage this morning. "We burst through the ER doors and between screams for help I looked at Annie and said, 'I have you, okay? You keep fighting and so will I.'"

Julia was sharing with event attendees what happened last December, when her non-verbal twin sister Annie, who suffers from a variety of complex medical conditions, was found limp and unresponsive on the floor of her home. When the family hit a traffic jam on the way to the hospital, Julia took matters into her own hands, scooping her sister into her arms and running towards help. As she stood back while doctors frantically hovered over her twin, she "realized for the first time in my life that I could lose my other half." 

As the hours passed, condition after condition was ruled out. "The doctors were perplexed," she recalled. "Annie's unresponsive silence turned into foreign wails of despair and her stats continued to decline. We were in crisis mode." In an act of "sheer desperation," the family made a "crazy request:" "We asked to put Annie on my lap and to our shock the doctor said okay -- violating every principle of emergency medicine to honor every principle of twin love."

Something magical happened as the E.R. doctor placed Annie on Julia's lap. "Her body melted into mine as it so often had before," she explained. "Two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together. Instantly her wails softened and oxygen and heart rate rose." Her sister's state was still dire, Julia said, but the therapeutic benefit of being on her sister was undeniable. 

Not wanting to leave the audience in suspense as to what happened to Annie, Julia turned around as her sister was wheeled out to rousing applause (and a few tears) from the rapt audience. "After 14 days in the ICU, multiple codes and many emergency-filled nights, our mighty Annie made a miraculous, full recovery," Julia shared. "The culprit? An overdose of a potent muscle relaxant accidentally administered by a home nurse." 

This story not only has a happy ending -- but also a lesson for the medical community: "For [complex] patients like Annie, standard protocols don't suffice."

Noting how the doctors treated her sister with "humanity and respect and didn't rely on assumptions," Julia also issued an important reminder for the entire room. "The reality is health care can only be at it's best when it integrates medicine with humanity."

Previously: On humanity, dignity and seizing opportunity: A call to action at Medicine X and It's back! Stanford Medicine X returns to campus
Photo and video courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

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