Med­i­cal mir­a­cle for con­joined DRC twins

They were born with no med­i­cal as­sis­tance in a re­mote Congo vil­lage – then their par­ents rode 1 400 km on a motorbike to get their con­joined twins to a hos­pi­tal

DRUM - - Contents - COM­PILED BY THU­LANI GQIRANA

THE tiny twins snug­gle up to­gether in their nest of fluffy blan­kets, bliss­fully un­aware of the life- or­death ordeal that fol­lowed their birth. And the story of their sur­vival is a pow­er­ful tes­ta­ment to their par­ents’ love.

Clau­dine Mukhena and Zaiko Mun­zadi, who live in the re­mote vil­lage of Mu­zombo in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), had no idea of the com­pli­ca­tions that awaited them when they found out they were to be par­ents.

Their twins were con­joined, at­tached at the navel and shar­ing some or­gans.

Re­mark­ably, Clau­dine was 37 weeks preg­nant when she went into labour – far longer than many moms man­age to carry mul­ti­ple ba­bies, es­pe­cially when there are com­pli­ca­tions.

Even more re­mark­ably, she had a nat­u­ral de­liv­ery. And when she and Zaiko saw their daugh­ters were con­joined they knew they needed to find help fast.

So they wrapped them in pink blan­kets and climbed onto Zaiko’s motorbike, set­ting off on a 15-hour, 1 400-km trip through the jun­gle un­til they reached the near­est hos­pi­tal in Vanga.

How­ever, the hos­pi­tal didn’t have the fa­cil­i­ties needed to per­form the in­tri­cate surgery, so the par­ents ap­pealed to the Chris­tian or­gan­i­sa­tion Mis­sion Avi­a­tion Fel­low­ship (MAF) for help.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion flew the ba­bies to Kin­shasa al­most 500km away where they were suc­cess­fully sep­a­rated by a team of vol­un­teer sur­geons.

The op­er­a­tion was the first of its kind in the DRC, lo­cal doc­tor Ju­nior Mudji be­lieves. He’s now car­ing for the twins back at Vanga Evan­gel­i­cal Hos­pi­tal and “they are fine”, he says.

Won­der and awe still sur­round the mother and her ba­bies, who’ve been named Anick and Destin.

“At 37 weeks, con­joined twins born nat­u­rally – it’s un­heard of,” Mudji says.

“They are do­ing fine, they sleep well and eat well. We’ll keep them here for a few more weeks to be sure ev­ery­thing is nor­mal.”

The twins are likely to re­turn home later this month.

CON­JOINED twins oc­cur once in ev­ery 200 000 live births and their sur­vival is any­thing but as­sured.

Ap­prox­i­mately 40-60% are still­born and about 35% sur­vive only one day.

per­cent­age They sep­a­rated ents to Anick Ja­clyn hold were were their Reier­son, and ec­static in a of little week Septem­ber Destin fight­ers girls when an old are MAF in when and they their and in mis­sion­ary sur­vivors. the they their were arms. small were par- able in were crowd. “Congo, There flown Peo­ple was re­mem­bers to Kin­shasa. a be­gan big com­mo­tion the press­ing day the in in twins and the surg­ing tempt­ing air­plane. around De­spite to lead his a a doc­tor woman best ef­forts who to­wards to was shield the ather, peo­ple, she was touch­ing be­ing her, swarmed tak­ing by pic­tures, over 200 call­ing star­ing. Think out, shout­ing Hol­ly­wood ques­tions pa­parazzi and but with no se­cu­rity,” she says in a blog­post on the MAF web­site.

A sur­geon on board turned to her. “That bun­dle in her arms is con­joined twins. At­tached at the navel. They were born in a re­mote vil­lage so far away no one around here even knows where it is. And they were born nat­u­rally!”

For­tu­nately the ba­bies were con­joined in a way that made sep­a­ra­tion pos­si­ble – they shared no vi­tal or­gans so sur­geons were able to prise them apart with­out com­pli­ca­tion.

MAF pi­lot Brett Reier­son flew them back to Vanga when they were strong enough. “It was a priv­i­lege to be part of their story,” he says.

‘Con­joined twins born nat­u­rally at 37 weeks – it’s un­heard of’

ABOVE and LEFT: Con­joined twins Anick and Destin were at­tached at the navel when they were born. ABOVE RIGHT: The girls and their par­ents, Clau­dine Mukhena and Zaiko Mun­zadi, on their way back home.

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