Rare conjoined twins have been separated at a London hospital in a series of operations taking a total of 55 hours. Two-year-old sisters Safa and Marwa Ullah had three major operations to separate their heads at Great Ormond Street.
More than 100 members of staff were involved in the procedures, which were carried out over a span of four months. Surgeons separated their brains, intertwined in their shared skull, repositioned them and then cut the head apart. They then reconstructed their skulls – sharing shards of bone between the two girls to make it stretch over the top of their new heads.
The girls, from northern Pakistan, had their final operation in February. They are now recovering in London and plan to return to their homeland in 2020. The operation was paid for by Pakistani businessman Murtaza Lakhani.
The team at Great Ormond Street, led by neurosurgeon Noor ul Owase Jeelani and plastic surgeon Professor David Dunaway, have performed the procedure twice before, in 2006 and 2011.
But they said Safa and Marwa’s case was the most complex yet. To prepare, the team modelled their heads using virtual reality and made a 3D replica.
During the first 15-hour operation last October, they separated the brains and arteries. In a second operation, a month later, they separated the veins.
But the girls started to bleed after clots formed in Safa’s neck and she began to shunt blood to her twin. Doctors feared they would lose Marwa after her heart rate fell.
As a result of her complications, they gave her a key vein that the twins shared. But this meant Safa suffered a stroke less than 12 hours later. Surgeon Mr Jeelani said he feared the worst.
In January the surgeons inserted sacs to stretch their skin, and the next month, in a final major operation, the girls were cut apart and the team built new skulls using the girls’ own bone.
The twins are now undergoing physiotherapy.