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Twins get face lifts to look alike again

November 19, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Since birth, Barbara Bujacich and Frances Totaro didn’t need a mirror to see what they looked like _ the identical twins could just look at each other. That is, until they started aging, each in a different way.

Now, after dual face lifts, ``we might look alike again,″ the 53-year-old Mrs. Totaro said, minutes after stitches were removed from her face in Dr. Darrick Antell’s operating suite.

For twins who want to be identical again, surgery promises more than a youthful look: They say it’s unsettling after a lifetime of looking alike to grow apart physically.

``It just seems like we’re closer than most other people,″ says Ynette Sapp, 71, who underwent surgery with Antell last week with her sister, Olvette Mahan.

``We enjoy looking alike,″ adds Mrs. Mahan, dressed in white slacks and a black top, like Mrs. Sapp.

Mrs. Sapp and Mrs. Mahan, who both live in Oklahoma, while Mrs. Bujacich and Mrs. Totaro are both from New Jersey.

They are the first two sets of identical twins that Antell, an attending physician at Beth Israel Medical Center, has performed face lifts on. He plans to operate on four more sets in the coming months.

For Antell and others, adult identical twins offer a unique glimpse into the aging process.

``They have identical genes _ a built-in control factor _ so aging with them is a study of the environment, emotions, lifestyle,″ said Nancy Segal, a psychologist writing a book about identical twins.

For instance if one twin smokes, the comparison can cast light on how a smoker ages _ ``like comparing yourself to yourself if you didn’t smoke,″ said Segal, a professor at California State University at Fullerton.

But research was far from the four women’s minds as they peered closely at each other’s faces Tuesday in Antell’s office.

``We’re definitely more alike than we were,″ said Mrs. Sapp, who described the 2 1/2-hour operation under local anesthesia and sedation as ``so much fun.″

Before, her sister said, ``when we smiled, her wrinkles would kind of go down, and mine would kind of go up. Now, it’ll be difficult to tell the difference between us. I’m delighted.″

The two nurses, who live across the street from each other and work part-time in the same clinic, do have their differences. Mrs. Sapp, a Democrat, is ``neat and orderly,″ she said, while her sister, a Republican, is ``laid-back.″ But the vivacious, 5-foot-2 siblings both love to talk _ often at the same time.

Why go through all the pain just to look alike?

``The sameness is a part of their identity all their lives, and it can be traumatic to see differences,″ Antell said.

An anonymous donor funding Antell’s research covered the costs of the four women’s operations _ $10,000 to $12,000 each _ with the patients adding about $2,000 each for supplies.

It was too soon Tuesday for Mrs. Bujacich and Mrs. Totaro to assess their surgery. Five days after their operations, their faces were still puffy.

The Oklahoma sisters _ who met the 46-year-old Antell this summer at a world convention on twins in Twinsburg, Ohio _ had visited just about every tourist site during their 10-day stay in New York.

``We knew we’d look like gargoyles for a couple of days,″ Mrs. Sapp said. ``But here in New York, no one seems to mind.″

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