For the first time in their lives, twins Bernardo and Arthur Lima can see each other’s faces.
The boys were born conjoined at the head almost four years ago in Brazil. It’s rare for twins to be conjoined at the cranium, and since they shared parts of the brain and the main vein that carries blood to the heart, doctors worried they wouldn’t be able to separate them without serious complications.
Their desperate parents sought help in Brazil, which ultimately lead them to Gemini Untwined. This non-profit was started by Dr. Noor ul Owase Jeelani of England, who had a vision of pooling resources from around the world to perform complicated surgeries like this one. This is the sixth successful separation of conjoined twins that Gemini Untwined has accomplished to date.
Bernardo and Arthur are also the oldest patients at age 3 to ever undergo craniopagus surgery.
Before the final separation surgery, Bernardo and Arthur had seven surgeries at the Instituto Estadual do Cérebro Paulo Niemeyer in Rio de Janeiro. When they were finally ready to be separated, doctors used virtual reality for the trans-Atlantic operation. Even after months of preparation, the operation was a leap of faith for these medical professionals.
More than 100 medical personnel attended the final surgeries, which took about 33 hours to complete. In the months leading up to surgery day, they conducted virtual training, trial runs, and meetings between the medical teams in Brazil and England. Dr. Jeelani called the technology they used “space-age stuff!”
“It’s just wonderful,” he said. “It’s really great to see the anatomy and do the surgery before you actually put the children at any risk. You can imagine how reassuring that is for the surgeons. In some ways, these operations are considered the hardest of our time, and to do it in virtual reality was just really man-on-Mars stuff.”
After all of the preparation and hours of grueling surgery, the medical staff was elated when the boys were finally lying in their own beds.
Dr. Gabriel Mufarrej, Head of Pediatric Surgery at Instituto Estadual do Cérebro Paulo Niemeyer, lead the surgical team in Brazil. He says the hospital staff has grown close with Bernardo and Arthur’s family over the years, and this is the end of a long journey they’ve made together.
“Since the parents of the boys came from their home in the Roraima region to Rio to seek our help two-and-a-half years ago, they had become part of our family here in the hospital,” he said. “We are delighted that the surgery went so well and the boys and their family have had such a life-changing outcome.”
The boys will be in rehab for the next six months, and they may need additional procedures in the future, but they’re finally able to move around and explore their world as individuals!
Not only has this groundbreaking surgery changed Arthur and Bernardo’s lives, it has also opened the door for future surgeries performed in multiple locations. Thanks to technology, we can get the best doctors in the world together to solve problems and improve lives!
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