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Conjoined Twins From Uganda Survive Separation Surgery

The Short of It

Baby sisters Acen and Apio Akello, 11-months-old, were born in Uganda—joined at the pelvic region and hip. After a long journey to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio and a very delicate, complex 16-hour surgery that included a team of surgeons and approximately 30 people in the OR, the girls were separated last week and both are now recovering. Like other conjoined babies who have been successfully separated, the twins are expected to lead independent lives.

The Lowdown

According to a Nationwide Children's press release, first, specialists untwined their spinal cords, while technicians monitored nerve functions to identify which nerves belonged to each twin. Next, the girls’ soft tissue was divided—and after a 16-hour long reconstruction process, the girls became two distinct thriving bodies. "The look on the parents' faces when you tell them the babies are separated is something that you'll never get out of your mind,” Dr. Gail Besner said. “You remember it for the rest of your life.”

Conjoined twins are incredibly rare—occuring in about 1 out of every 200,000 pregnancies—and separation surgery is fraught with danger for the babies. Surgeons at Nationwide have successfully separated four sets of conjoined twins since 1978. In this case, tissue expansion prior to surgery and 3-D modeling helped make the surgery a success.

The separation will allow the babies to grow up together, but apart—like any other set of twins. “The surgery is going to be very helpful to the children because they will be able to feed on their own," the girls' mother, Esther Akello, said through a translator. "They'll be able to grow up like normal children."

Watch the heartwarming YouTube video about the surgery below:

The Upshot

"We have the potential at Nationwide Children’s to take two patients who would never have been able to have a normal life as they were before and make them into two separate individuals who, I expect, will have healthy and normal lives,” said Dr. Besner. Praise! We are so lucky to live in America with some of the best doctors in the world and the science—or is it magic?—of modern medicine. We wish these special sisters a speedy recovery.

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