Vietnam conjoined twins recovering week after separation

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Nguyen Hoang Phi Long, one of the conjoined twin boys who were separated last month, grasps his mother's finger December 2 as he shows signs of recovery at Ho Chi Minh City Children's Hospital No.2. Photo by Dr Truong Quang Dinh of the hospital

Two conjoined baby boys who were separated last month are showing the first signs of recovery like crying and grasping their mother's fingers, doctors in Ho Chi Minh City said.

"My happiest feeling this morning (Monday) was when their mother entered the room and Long held her finger tightly as if to tell her that he is not going anywhere," Truong Quang Dinh, deputy director of Children's Hospital No.2, who led a team of 70 experts from various hospitals for the surgery, told Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Nguyen Hoang Phi Long and Nguyen Hoang Phi Phung were separated November 26 after receiving special care at Ho Chi Minh City's leading pediatrics hospital for 14 months.

They had been brought there from the south-central province of Ninh Thuan 350 kilometers away with breathing difficulty a day after birth.

It was a fraught journey since the ambulance had to stop en route for urgent treatment after Phung stopped breathing and turned black and blue.

He stopped breathing again at the hospital gate, and the condition prompted doctors to wait until the babies were strong enough for the surgery.

The two were fused at the torso, as well as parts of their hearts and livers. Long got to keep the chest and abdominal walls while Phung had to receive a graft.

Long has always been the healthier one while Phung suffered from bleeding in the brain, narrowed heart valve, and pneumonia, and had to be on a respirator for a year.

But Phung has responded to doctors changing his bandages with crying, Dinh said.

"That is good news. Phung has recovered quickly despite his earlier complications."

Both babies were put on respirators after the surgery, but Dinh said Long might be able to breathe on his own by the end of this week and respirator indicators also show Phung growing less dependent on the machine.

Doctors have been feeding them milk through the mouth.

The aftermath

Nguyen Thi Hong Lam, the twins' mother, and her husband Nguyen Thanh Phien almost fainted when they heard the 12-hour surgery was successful.

She was told in the 25th week of pregnancy that her babies were conjoined, but the couple decided to keep them.

"They are our children, no matter how they look," the mother told Tuoi Tre.

Lam stayed back at the Ninh Thuan Hospital after having a C-section, and Phien came with the babies. She came to HCMC two months later.

They have been eating at charity kitchens and staying in the hospital in an area meant for infants' family members.

Earlier Phien worked at construction sites in nearby Binh Duong Province and visited the hospital once a week, but he recently got a job as a parking-lot attendant near the hospital.

Lam has been working for the hospital canteen for around VND2 million a month. She worked briefly as a help for a family, but quit since she had to stay there from dawn to dusk.

"I did not feel right being away from the hospital for the whole day," she said.

Lam and Phien are given 15 minutes every day with their children, who are monitored 24 hours by doctors and nurses.

Tuoi Tre quoted senior nurse Huynh Thi Phuong Thao as saying the babies have become like family to the staff.

"We were very happy to get them back alive after the surgery. That is a reward for their parents' courage.

"Now we long for the day they can speak and run around like other children."

Lam said the nurses keep them updated on their babies' actions every day, describing how they laugh, speak, kick, and kiss them.

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Before the surgery she had only got to hold her babies once since their birth, when they were taken to Hoa Hao Hospital for CT scans.

Her husband had tried to hold their legs then. "I will never forget that feeling."

On the day of surgery she had kept praying that doctors would not call her and that her phone would not ring since that could mean the operation had gone wrong.

Phien said they only breathed again when Dinh opened the door of the surgery room and told them they could see the babies.

"I almost collapsed. I wanted to hold the doctor and thank him but I just could not. My hands and legs felt like they were out of control."

The couple are overjoyed now but also worry for Phung given his earlier feeble condition.

Lam said: "But no matter what happens, I won't regret giving birth to them or allowing the surgery. They are my very flesh and blood."

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