Most people will agree that getting wheeled into an operating room can be incredibly nerve-wracking. Complications can occur, and there is no telling how long it can take to resolve a problem. Similarly, surgeons prepare for surgeries as best as they can, but complications can cause delays and loss of life. Surgeries can last from minutes to days, and the longest surgery documented occurred at the turn of this century, in 2001. Doctors at Singapore General Hospital worked over 100 hours to separate a pair of conjoined twins.
Ganga and Jamuna Shrestha were born conjoined at the head, with a shared cranial cavity and a partially fused brain. The average separation surgery takes about 30 hours, but complications during the operation delayed the completion for days. The Shrestha twins’ brains were more intertwined than what was originally thought, which required much more caution during the surgery. Both of the girls’ skulls were refashioned during the surgery. Additionally, hundreds of blood vessels crossed the two girls’ brains and the process of dividing those vessels took time.
20 doctors took shifts to continue the long operation. Dr. Keith Goh, who presided over the operation, used virtual reality technology to render 3-dimensional images of the girls’ brains. The two girls successfully made it out of the hospital, five days after they entered the operating room. During that time, donations and support for the twins and their family crossed international lines. Singapore, Nepal, and the United States all worked to help the girls survive the surgery and get home to Khalanga, Nepal. Unfortunately, Ganga Shrestha did not survive childhood. She died in 2008 due to pneumonia and meningitis.
It took the coordination of surgeons, conjoined twin specialists, medical virtual technology consultants, and public support to see the end of the successful surgery. It’s always important to remember how many people it takes to solve medical issues and just how much dedication these doctors had to seeing these babies live a fulfilling life.
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