October 4, 2005

Indian doctors hopeful of separating conjoined twins

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Doctors who conducted a series of
tests on 10-year-old conjoined Indian twins said on Tuesday
they believed it was possible to surgically separate the girls
who were born fused at the head.

Saba and Farah Shakeel, a roadside food stall owner's
daughters, have been through a battery of tests at Apollo
Hospital in the capital.

Doctors say the separation surgery will be complicated
because the girls share a major blood drainage vessel in the
brain. Another big challenge is that only one girl has both
kidneys, while the other has none.

"We believe we can separate Saba and Farah with a certain
degree of confidence and we believe that separation is
possible," Anupam Sibal, a paediatrician at Apollo, told

"We have the expertise to pull this off and do that with a
reasonable degree of success."

No date has been fixed for the surgery because the family
is yet to give consent.

The surgery will be a complex five-step process beginning
with the creation of a virtual 3-D image of the twins and
ending with a kidney transplant from one girl to the other,
doctors said.

Benjamin Carson, director of paediatric neurosurgery at
Johns Hopkins in the United States, will lead a team of about
60 doctors from both countries.

"These types of operations are extraordinarily complex and
there is a lot of planning that goes into them. We have come up
with some preliminary thoughts about what should be done and
there will be more studies that would be carried out," Carson

"All that we have said is subject to change because we
still have more due diligence to do. We are not rushing into
anything here at all and we want to make sure we take advantage
of every piece of knowledge that is available."

Conjoined twins occur roughly once in every 50,000 births
and few are born alive or live long. For twins who undergo
surgery, one or both often die after the operation and the rate
of survival beyond the age of two is just 20 percent.