Surgeons in Israel have separated 1-year-old twins who were attached to the head, the first time the unusual surgery was performed in the country.
Thursday’s successful surgery at a hospital in the southern city of Beersheba was a moment of triumph for both the family and the 50-person medical team who delivered the feat after months of preparation. The “rare and complex surgery” has only been performed about 20 times, said Dr. Mickey Gideon, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Soroka Medical Center, where the surgery was performed, said in a statement.
“They expect a full recovery,” he told Israeli news site Ynet.
“It was a moment of crying and laughing with the family,” he said. “For the first time, the family can hold the babies separately.”
The surgery lasted more than 12 hours and involved input from specialists in various fields, including neurosurgery, plastic surgery, pediatric intensive care and brain imaging. Two experts from London and New York with experience in separating twins participated.
“I am delighted that the surgery went well and that the girls, their families and the local team had a good outcome,” said Dr. Noor ul Owase Jeelani, a pediatric neurosurgeon from London, said in a statement.
The founder of Gemini Untwined, a charity that has separated five twins, Dr. Jeelani said he hoped teamwork and global knowledge sharing “could improve outcomes for all children and families in this difficult position.”
The twins were born in hospital on the back of their heads last August, and their cardio and respiratory functions and development were monitored for several months. To plan the procedure, 3D and virtual reality models were used to simulate the best way to separate bones, blood vessels and meninges, or the membranes that cover the brain. They were also given skin and tissue expanders months before surgery so doctors could close their scalps after surgery.
“They will see and eat; hands, feet, everything is fine,” the father of the twins, who have not been identified, told Channel 12, adding that he feared the surgery would not help the babies. “I was moved – this is the first time I lifted them all by myself.”
Twins joined at the head — known medically as craniopagus twins — are extremely rare. It is estimated that about 50 such twins are born around the world each year, and only 15 survive the first 30 days of life, according to Gemini Untwined, although many of these cases could be candidates for surgical separation.
In 2019, a team of 100, including Dr. Jeelani, successfully twin girls after more than 50 cumulative hours of surgery. That same year, a team of Hungarian doctors did the same with Bengal twins.
The successful operation at Beersheba Hospital was a wonderful lead-up to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, said Dr. Gideon. “It gives us an idea of why we are here and in this profession.”
He added: “The feeling of ‘we did it’ will accompany me for the rest of my life.”