Conjoined twins recovering well after separation op

Conjoined twins Uwenzile and Uyihlelile Shilongonyane were successfully separated during a six-hour operation at Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion. (Supplied)
Conjoined twins Uwenzile and Uyihlelile Shilongonyane were successfully separated during a six-hour operation at Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion. (Supplied)

Pretoria – The conjoined twins separated after a six-hour-long operation more than a week ago are stable and recovering well, the Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion said on Monday.

"Uwenzile and Uyihlelile are no longer being fed intravenously and their bodily functions are all working healthily," paediatrician Dr Marleen Engelbrecht said in a statement.

She said the girls were making good progress, and were being ventilated and monitored. They were born prematurely at just 36 weeks and had major surgery on January 21.

"We are all looking forward to the twins getting to a stage where their doting parents can hold them," she said.

Uwenzile and Uyihlelile Sihlongonyane, from Swaziland, were three-weeks old when they underwent surgery at the Pretoria hospital. They had a combined weight of 4.21kg when they were born by C-section on January 2.

They were joined at the lower abdomen and each had their own heart and other vital organs which improved their chances of surviving the separation.

8 doctors, 11 nursing professionals

"The fact that there was a skin bridge between them meant that there was sufficient skin to close the resultant surgical wound on each baby without the need for plastic surgery," paediatric surgeon Dr Mariza de Villiers said.

Anaesthesia was the main challenge facing the surgical team, paediatric surgeon Dr Paul Stevens said.

"The twins were conjoined in such a way that they are facing each other. Intubation for such tiny babies is delicate enough, but as their faces are so close to one another and they are not able to be placed on their backs to be incubated for anesthesia, this was a great deal more complicated than usual," he explained.

Four anaesthetists, wearing colour-coded scrub caps, took care of the twins during the surgery. Getting the anaesthetic "just right" for the surgery took more than three hours, almost half of the total theatre time.

The twins were officially separated at midday and the surgery was completed shortly before 14:00.

Eight doctors and a theatre team of 11 nursing professionals took part in the procedure.

Second set of twins

The twins' parents, Bongekile Simelane and Mbongeni Sihlongonyane, found out they were expecting a second set of twins when Bongekile was seven months pregnant.

Their first set, both boys, are two.

"At first I was not happy to hear that I was expecting twins for the second time. However, once they were born everything changed. After their birth I was at first not worried as I thought the babies were only attached at the umbilical cord."

Both Simelane and Sihlongonyane said they were happy that the operation was a success and that their babies were recovering well. The Swaziland government’s Phalala Fund paid for the operation.

Dr Tony de Coito, managing director of Healthshare Health Solutions, which administers the fund on behalf of Swaziland’s health ministry, said they were happy to have been able to help.

"We are thrilled that the twins are making good progress, but having been born prematurely and undergone a major surgery, they still have a long road to go to full recovery.

"We are pleased that we were able to assist the family and find them such outstanding medical care in South Africa," De Coito said.

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