Johannesburg – Mother of conjoined twins, Bongekile Simelane, thought she would lose one or both of her babies.
“I could not sleep thinking about the operation,” the 20-year-old told reporters in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Her twin girls, Uwenzile and Uyihlelile Shilongonyane, were separated on January 21, three weeks after their birth via cesarean section. They were born prematurely at 36 weeks.
They were discharged from Netcare Unitas hospital on Tuesday.
“It’s heartbreaking as a parent when your child feels any pain. When you see your babies for the first time and you have to hand them over to a doctor, you have to fully trust and have faith in that team,” she said.
She underwent two operations during her first two pregnancies, when she had her first set of twin boys, now aged two; and a son, now aged three.
She had sleepless nights imagining the pain her children would endure.
“I had a c-section delivery. I know the agony of an operation. It’s something no mother wants for their children.”
She endured the long journey from her home in Swaziland to South Africa to ensure her babies’ survival.
“I was crying, it was heartbreaking. I thought I would lose one of my babies or that they both would not survive.”
Simelane tried to explain in Siswati how ecstatic she was to know her babies were healthy.
They were joined at the lower abdomen and were facing each other. Each girl had her own heart and other vital organs, which improved their chances of surviving the separation, paediatric surgeon Dr Paul Stevens, told journalists.
Stevens said it took eight doctors and 11 nurses six hours to separate them.
Sister Portia Mabuela became Simelane's confidante in hospital. She explained that Simelane had her first three children under enormous stress while in a hospital in Swaziland.
“She told me she was in a ministry hospital in Swaziland, where she had to bath her first twins by herself. She was confused and stressed about the health of her babies. She was worried about what they would eat, where she was going to sleep. I reassured her that she would receive the best care.”
Paediatric surgeon Mariza de Villiers said the operation was stressful.
“I was very excited about it. Then reality kicks in. You realise all the planning that goes into it. For me it was stressful. I only realised it after I got home, when I passed out on the couch.”
The two babies still had a hole in the septum of their heart. Stevens said this was normal and should close up.
“It’s very common in babies. It’s more common in premature babies and it’s not something that is unexpected. We knew about it before surgery.”
The proud father, Mbongeni Shilongonyane, 33, said he knew once Stevens explained the procedure that the babies would be in good hands.
“I can't even put it into words how happy I am. I had lost faith that my kids would survive. I was in denial that the kids were conjoined. I spoke to the doctors and I was reassured because I could see that they were ready to operate and they knew what they were doing.”
Uyihlelile and Uwenzile will now make the long journey home to Swaziland, to meet their twin siblings and brother for the first time.