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Conjoined Twins Remembered

Aired July 8, 2003 - 20:06   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to move on now to the tragic deaths of the Iranian twin sisters conjoined at the head. Details are coming out about the long, delicate surgery. Doctors say they kept encountering surprises they hadn't seen in preoperative scans. At one point, they considered giving up and leaving the women together. In the end, the final separating cut started the bleeding that they simply could not control.
Journalist Michael Dwyer joins us from Singapore with some reaction to the tragic end of this story.

Michael, I guess what has been so stunning to those of us who have watched this story from a distance is how engaged emotionally Singapore residents were in this story, and, of course, the doctors who were working around the clock to save these women's lives.


It is very early in Singapore still today. But people I've spoken to have expressed a wide range of emotions. Many people are very sad. Many people have a great deal of sympathy for the family and friends of the twins. There are those who say that the twins knew what the risks were, that they went into the operation knowing those risks and taking them on, wanting to lead their separate lives, and that the doctors shouldn't be judged too harshly for the outcome of this operation.

But, certainly, the twins, while they were in Singapore, made a big impression on the Singapore public. They knew the operation was very risky, but they were cheerful. They talked about the plans which they had for their lives. Those were plans that Singaporeans would have loved to see come to pass, and not just Singaporeans as well, but people all around the world who have heard about this story, heard about the amazing lives of these twins over 29 years, in which they became professionals. They were both law graduates.

They had overcome all kinds of disabilities to live what was, by any stretch of the imagination, quite successful lives. But they did want to lead separate lives. Laleh did want to become a journalist and live in Tehran. Ladan wanted to continue being a lawyer and move back to her hometown of Shiraz. There is a great deal of sadness in Singapore. It's obviously all over the media, front-page stories in all of the newspapers and blanket coverage on television last night.

The Iranian community in Singapore has also been especially hard- hit. Many people from that community were at the hospital yesterday afternoon when the bad news broke. They were in tears. People heard the news on radio, came down to the hospital just to offer support. They didn't even necessarily know the twins. They had just heard of the operation. They had sympathy for their plight and wanted to come down and offer any kind of support that they could -- Paula.

ZAHN: And have doctors on this team said anything publicly to help all of us better understand what went wrong?

DWYER: They have said that this is a very -- was always going to be a very complex piece of surgery. If it had been successful, it would have been the first time that adult conjoined twins joined at the head had been separated.

They said, in surgery like this, there are many things that can go wrong when you get onto the operating table, that people respond to surgery in sometimes unpredictable ways. Dr. Keith Goh, who's the lead neurosurgeon, has had previous success with operations of this kind. In Singapore in 2001, he successfully led a team that separated Nepalese conjoined twins.

So people going -- the surgeons going into this surgery had a lot of experience. They were some of the best neurosurgeons that the world has to offer. What they can say is that they did encounter some complications with the vein which they used to create a bypass to ensure blood supply to the brains, particularly Ladan's brain. There was some congestion in the bypass overnight. They did think about stopping the operation. They talked to the people who were closest to the twins while they've been in Singapore.

And they said, what would the twins want to do? And the friends and people close to the twins said, they would want this operation to go ahead. So they did go ahead. The doctors obviously spent a lot of time planning for this operation. There was a great deal of pressure on them to bring the twins through. There are obviously questions being asked about whether this is an operation that should have taken place. The odds were only about 50/50 from the start.

But what the doctors are saying is that they were touched by the twins' story. Even Dr. Ben Carson, who apparently only knew the twins for about a week or so before the operation, said that he was very taken by their story. Dr. Keith Goh, the lead neurosurgeon, has said that that is one of the things that swayed him. And, at this stage, there is a lot of lay speculation about what went wrong. Could have there been more blood? Could have there been anything else done to stop the tragic death of these two twins?

But I think we only assume that, with the level of specialization that was in the operating theater, that the doctors probably really did the best they could -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, we all have been deeply touched by this story. And I guess the question that is being debated worldwide is a question of whether these young girls' dreams overshadowed what was realistic medically.

Michael Dwyer, thank you for your powerful insights tonight into this story. We really appreciate your joining us. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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