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Baudette sisters share common bond: Moyamoya. Surgery saved them both

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Tasha (left) Katrina (right)2 / 2

FARGO—The saying goes "there is no friend like a sister."

And two women from Baudette, Minnesota are living proof of that.

Tasha and Katrina Baldwin both suffered some strange tingling and numbness in their arms and face recently. Turns out, they both made some rare medical history, and a trip to Fargo and Sanford's Stroke Center perhaps saved their lives.

Katrina, sister Tasha have always been close. But these last few months, the girls have found a new bond, a disease called Moyamoya.

"Right, like, Moyamoya, that's a disease?" Katrina Baldwin said, laughing.

It's a rare progressive brain disorder at the base of the brain.

"It means puff of smoke, in Japanese," Katrina said.

Neither girl knew they had it until...

"I would smile and my face would not smile, it drooped. And I looked in the mirror and it was not normal," Katrina said.

"Not tingly, it just felt like my arm was dead weight," Tasha Baldwin said.

In most of us our vessels in the brain, look more like a tree branch, healthy, carrying blood to our brain. But in Katrina and Tasha's brain, there were areas where the vessels looked like a tangled pile of string or spaghetti. The blood was not getting to their brain.

"Hey guys, good to see you. How was your summer?" Sanford neurosurgeon, Dr. Alexandra Drofa, said to the girls as he walked into an exam room.

Dr. Drofa, says the brain issue the girls experienced is rare, but even more bizarre is the girls experienced symptoms and had surgery just days apart.

"It was really scary," Tasha said, "Tthere is a) one percent chance of siblings having this together."

"In North America, even more, rare than that," said Dr. Drofa.

He showed WDAY the blockage in the sisters' scan, clear blood flow, then boom.

"This is the vessel that usually feeds your brain, and it stops here and you can see this haziness, like smoke, and the name MoyaMoya," Dr. Drofa said.

A web of vessels with little blood flow.

So, Dr. Drofa by-passed that mess, taking a healthier vessel and in repeat, microscopic surgical procedures, restored blood flow.

"If you leave it alone, patients will progressive strokes, and will wipe out your brain and eventually there will be death," Dr. Drofa said.

Katrina and Tasha have a new perspective on life. Appreciating that it was caught early, before a debilitating stroke, or worse. And fixed close to home. Now the sisters have a unique bond, never shared before.

"It brought it closer together and we can understand what each other is going through," Tasha said.

The exact cause of the disease is still unknown, but it is more common in Asian countries, and at times runs in families.

Kevin Wallevand

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia and the Middle East. He is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

(701) 241-5317
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