Conjoined twins that were fused together at the head and brain have been separated in one of the most complex separation operations to date. And the surgeons had a little help from VR.
Arthur and Bernado Lima were born in 2018 in Roraima in Brazil. The pair were conjoined at the cranium, and at first an operation seemed unlikely due to the complexity of the procedure.
However, thanks to neurosurgeon Noor ul Owase Jeelani, from Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK, the impossible was made possible. Jeelani is co-founder of the charity Gemini Untwined, which dedicates itself to helping conjoined twins with fused skulls.
“No one believed it was possible at first. Saving them both was a historic accomplishment,” the charity said in a statement.
Dr ul Owase Jeelani led a team of over 100 medical staff, alongside Dr Gabriel Mufarrej, Head of Paediatric Surgery at Instituto Estadual do Cérebro Paulo Niemeyer, in Rio de Janeiro, to perform several operations to separate the twins. The operations, were performed weeks apart, to give each part of the cranium time to heal. The final two operations took a total of 33 hours to complete.
Part of the aim of Gemini Untwined is to train medical staff in the skills to perform these complex operations. The team in Brazil were given the skills to perform the task, and this is where virtual reality came in. Firstly, brain scans were created to take a digital map of the boys’ craniums. After this, virtual reality surgeries were conducted in the UK and Brazil, giving both teams ample practice with specific models of the boys’ fused skulls.
“It’s just wonderful, it’s really great to see the anatomy and do the surgery before you actually put the children at any risk,” Jeelani said, before adding:
“Not only have we provided a new future for the boys and their family, we have equipped the local team with the capabilities and confidence to undertake such complex work successfully again in the future.’
The boys are now recovering, and medical staff have taken photographs of the boys side by side holding hands.