It was an average morning in Tanzania. The little village of Kasumulu was slowly awakening from slumber. But for an expecting mother, the day was rife with possibilities. What could be more wondrous than bringing new life into the world? With eyes full of dreams, she went to the dispensary in the village for her delivery.
However, the dispensary directed her to the District Hospital, considering she had previously undergone a caesarean section. Little did she know the tumult that was to unfold. Painting her dreams in a cruel shade of black was life’s crooked prank. She gave birth to two little boys – conjoined at the buttocks. Her pygopagus twins were joined at the spine’s end and had a shared phallus and urinary passage. Frantically seeking help, the distraught mother journeyed for three days with her newborns to reach Mohimbili Hospital in the capital city of Dar es Salaam.
If there’s anything more frightening than seeing your child in pain, it is uncertainty about his life. Her dear boys were a one-in-2,00,000-deliveries phenomenon, among the 40 percent who are not stillborn in such cases. Then again, the two were among the minute 17 percent of conjoined twins joined at the buttocks. In a convoluted play of fate, the boys were only the fifth set of males among the total 30 pygopagus twins reported thus far in medical literature. Statistics were however but numbers to their mother…the one who had woven loving stories to narrate to her children now caught amidst petrifying digits of probability.
She sits in Apollo Hospitals Chennai today, waiting for the morning of December the 16th. When her boys – Ericana and Eliudi – were four and a half months of age, they were shifted to Apollo Children’s Hospital which is closely associated with the Tanzanian government by the Save a Child’s Heart Initiative (SACHI). Doctors from across the specialties of neurosurgery, plastic surgery, paediatric surgery and paediatric urology will attempt the mammoth surgery to separate the twins and lend them a new lease of life. They will be assisted by paediatric surgeons and anaesthesiologists from London. One of the biggest challenges the doctors will face during the 14-16 hours long surgery is the separation of the phallus to ensure both boys have a functional penis.
The past few months have been full with preparations for the big day. Tissue expanders have been placed in the back, buttocks and thighs in order to let skin cover the defects that surgical separation will leave behind. Today, the little children are 9 months of age and weigh 16 kilograms. They are the nurses’ favourite and fondly called ‘Ammukutty’ and ‘Chellakutty’. In response, the darlings mumble ‘Thatha’* and ‘Athai’*. Lying in their beds, they are blissfully unaware of the situation confronting them. Their mother, though, senses every bit of it. Every single day.
The year is drawing to a close. Christmas trees nod cheerfully from store windows; children stare dreamily at glowing streamers of light. This festive season, let’s do our good deed of the day. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the little family and their big ordeal. If – and here’s hoping it will – the surgery is solemnized successfully, not only will it be a huge leap for Indian medicine, but will also bring a wave of optimism for others trapped in similar situations.
Here’s wishing Apollo Hospitals Chennai all the very best for December the 16th. This Christmas, may Santa bring good cheer and drop by an early surprise of a happy mother and a pair of healthy little boys.
*Thatha – Grandfather, Athai – Aunt (in Tamil)