Conjoined Twins Tug at Heartstrings as They Stretch Limits of Medicine

Still, while the medical heroics are inspiring, the high mortality rate mean parents, loved ones and even the millions of people following conjoined twins' sagas should realize the enormous risks involved, noted Dr. Marcelo Cardarelli, director of pediatric cardiac surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Contemplating a Shared Life, Body

"The issue, No. 1, is we tend to put them all in one bag, but they [all conjoined twins] are very different among themselves," Cardarelli said. "The cases are so few and infrequent, and the mortality rate is between 40 and 90 percent, that, at the end, you end up with a handful of cases that have survived surgery. I think you can count maybe 100 separation surgeries of conjoined twins in the whole world."

Cardarelli helped separate Loice and Christine Onziga of Uganda, who were born connected from the breastbone to the navel. They had several fused tissues, and their hearts were linked by a large blood vessel. Their recovery has been excellent.

All things considered, the Onzigas' separation was relatively uncomplicated, although nothing is easy when dealing with conjoined twins, especially the ethical issues, Cardarelli noted.

"More often, we're doing things because we can. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we should," he said. "As a society, we value individuality. We can't comprehend not to be an individual."

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