Twin sisters from the Central African Republic joined at the skull were successfully separated following a lengthy surgery at Gesu Bambino, the pope's pediatric hospital in Rome.
The conjoined 2-year-old girls were born with “one of the rarest and most complex forms of cranial and cerebral fusion,” said doctors at the Vatican-owned hospital, according to CRUX.
The surgery was completed on June 5, requiring 30 specialists and taking 18 hours to complete. The girls, Ervina and Prefina, are expected to recover fully and are reportedly in good condition. They will wear special protective helmets for a few months to prevent damage to their skulls.
Ervina and Prefina were born in June 2018 in Mbaiki, a small town in the landlocked country in central Africa. The Central African Republic is slightly smaller than the state of Texas with a population of just under 6 million, according to the CIA World Factbook.
In Bangui, the capital city, the family met with the Vatican hospital director who orchestrated their transfer to Rome for the surgery. The team of medical experts found that one sister's heart was working notably harder than the other's to maintain the physiological balance of the organs in both sisters, including the brain. According to the hospital, the twins have "distinct" personalities, one vivacious and playful, the other more serious and quiet.
“It was an exciting moment: A fantastic, unrepeatable experience,” Dr. Carlo Marras, the head of Neurosurgery of the Bambino Gesu and of the chief of the team that separated the twins, said.
“It was a very ambitious goal and we did everything we could to achieve it, with passion, optimism and joy. By sharing each step, studying every single detail together,” he added.
The twins were able to look at each other for the first time on their 2nd birthday, which was on June 29.
The most complex aspect in the operation was not separating the skull bones of the twins but the shared network of blood vessels with supplied blood from their brains to their hearts, Gesu Bambino said in a statement. The girls underwent two operations last year to construct those independent blood vessel networks and the final surgery, which separated them completely, occurred last month.
“Ervina and Prefina were born twice. If we had stayed in Africa, I don’t know what fate they would have had,” Ermine, mother of the twin girls, said.
“Now that they are separated and doing well, I would like them to be baptized by Pope Francis, who has always taken care of the children of Bangui. My little ones can now grow up, study and become doctors to save other children,” she said, overjoyed.
The twins had been originally cared for in a Bangui hospital that Gesu Bambino helped establish after Pope Francis visited the impoverished nation in 2015.