Three-year-old twins in Brazil who were conjoined at the head have been successfully separated with the help of virtual reality.
Twins Bernardo and Arthur Lima underwent surgeries in Rio de Janeiro with support and direction from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
Described by Noor ul Owase Jeelani, a surgeon, as “space-age stuff,” the teams spent months trialing techniques using virtual reality projections of the twins, based on CT and MRI scans.
The operation was one of the most complex separation processes ever completed, according to Gemini Untwined, the charity, founded by Mr. Jeelani in 2018, which funded the procedure.
He said that, for the first time, surgeons in separate countries wore headsets and operated in the same “virtual reality room” together.
The twins had seven surgeries all in all, and the final operation alone lasted for a total of more than 27 hours. One hundred medical personnel were involved in the procedures.
Virtual reality surgery considered the hardest of our time
While speaking about the VR aspect of the surgery, Mr. Jeelani said, “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.”
“You can imagine how reassuring that is for the surgeons,” he noted.
Jeelani further stated that , “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.”
He said that previously unsuccessful attempts to separate the boys meant their anatomy was complicated by scar tissue, and he was “really apprehensive” about the risky procedure.
After the 27-hour operation, Mr. Jeelani said he was “absolutely shattered” after taking only four fifteen-minute breaks for food and water, but it was “wonderful” to see the family feeling “over the moon” afterwards.
“As with all conjoined twins after separation, the boys’ blood pressures and heart rates were ‘through the roof’ until they were reunited four days later and touched hands,” he added.
However, the twins are recovering well in hospital and will be supported with six months of rehabilitation.
Separation of conjoined twins is life-changing
The separation of the twins in Brazil was Mr. Jeelani’s sixth separation procedure with Gemini Untwined, after previously operating on twins from Pakistan, Sudan, Israel, and Turkey.
Mr. Jeelani led the procedure alongside Dr. Gabriel Mufarrej, head of pediatric surgery at Instituto Estadual do Cerebro Paulo Niemeyer in Brazil.
Dr. Mufarrej said the hospital where he works has been caring for the boys for two-and-a-half years, and their separation will be “life-changing.”
He said, “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 have become part of our family here in the hospital. We are delighted that the surgery went so well.”
The twins, Bernardo and Arthur, at almost four years of age, are the oldest craniopagus twins (twins with a fused brain) to have been separated.
One in sixty thousand births results in conjoined twins, and only five percent of those are craniopagus twins, according to information from the charity.