Separate at last

Conjoined twins from Pakistan undergo free separation surgery in Saudi Arabia

Nisar and Leena Ghani and their conjoined twin daughters. (Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times)

On March 26, a pair of conjoined twins, barely more than a year old, traveled from their poor town in Pakistan to Saudi Arabia for a rare and risky separation surgery. The two girls were joined at the liver — otherwise their bodies, limbs and organs were separate. Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, 66, the surgeon who led the program performing the surgery, is a former health minister who treats members of the Saudi Royal family. He personally split the liver as five other doctors clustered around, some holding back skin, another cutting and cauterizing, and yet another stitching up arteries to prevent blood loss. Soon, the girls, fully separated, were wheeled out into a hallway to meet their parents in front of a crowd of well-wishers, a Pakistani ambassador, and a TV crew broadcasting live.

Al-Rabeeah says that since 1990 his Saudi program has performed 40 separation procedures for families from 20 countries and three continents who could not otherwise afford the costly operations. Entry into the program, which is housed at the King Abdullah Specialist Children’s Hospital in Riyadh, requires the approval of King Salman himself. For those chosen, however, the government foots the bill, providing patients and their families with first-class plane tickets, free accommodations, and, of course, a life-changing surgery. According to Dr. James O’Neill, professor of pediatric surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the program may be one of the largest of its type in the world.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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