3-Year-Old Twins With 'Intertwined Brains' Separated By Landmark Surgery

Mason Joseph Zimmer
conjoined twins lay together with their heads attached while one brother grips health care worker's finger in his hand
Vimeo | Gemini Untwined

A pair of three-year-old conjoined twins who were even connected at the brain have finally been separated after undergoing one of the most difficult operations in the world.

There's a lot about pregnancy that can be hard to predict and that includes how how many babies someone is actually about to have. And while we've heard stories of mothers somehow giving birth to six or more children at a time, it's easy to forget how differently the act of having even twins can affect the body.

But of course, how those twins will appear when they come out isn't so easy to predict either. And it's true that many conjoined twins can lead great and fulfilling lives together, but some of the ways they can intertwine are so untenable that separating the children gives them the best chance at achieving that goal.

Although this is definitely true for the twins we're about to meet today, it wasn't so long ago that the incredible results they've experienced would have seemed impossible.

When Bernardo and Arthur Lima were born, they were conjoined in one of the world's rarest and most challenging ways.

medical team standing with conjoined twins with attached heads in Brazilian hospital
instagram | @geminiuntwined

According to the charity Gemini Untwined, they are craniopagus twins, which means they're connected to each other by "fused skulls, intertwined brains, and shared blood vessels."

About 1 in 60,000 births result in conjoined twins at all, but Bernardo and Arthur's condition is rare even by those standards. Only 5% of conjoined twins can be considered craniopagus.

Since it's evidently difficult to live your life with your head attached to someone else's, Gemini Untwined is committed to arranging treatment for those in this predicament.

But after five procedures led by the organization's founder — London-based pediatric surgeon Noor ul Owase Jeelani — failed to separate them, Jeelani was apprehensive about continuing.

medical team in Brazil preparing for surgery to separate conjoined twins
instagram | Gemini Untwined

According to People, this was because the previous operations had brought enough scar tissue to cause complications for the twins.

But the final two surgeries his team had planned involved a secret weapon that didn't exist before, a virtual reality program that allowed surgeons in different countries to participate in the same operation for the first time in history.

The required virtual training took months to complete, but it allowed Jeelani to coordinate with a team working in Rio de Janeiro for several more months before he could make the trip for the final procedures.

And these two surgeries were about as intense as it gets because they involved almost 100 medical workers and took a grand total of 33 hours to complete.

conjoined twins lay together with their heads attached while one brother grips health care worker's finger in his hand
Vimeo | Gemini Untwined

Most of this time was spent on the final, grueling operation that was conducted over the course of 27 hours. In that time, Jeelani took only four 15-minute breaks for food and water.

In his words, "In some ways these operations are considered the hardest of our time."

Nonetheless, the procedure was a resounding success and both children were able to survive the separation. This gives Gemini Untwined a perfect record for the six surgeries they've overseen, more than any one organization has done before.

Bernardo and Arthur are the oldest set of craniopagus twins with a fused brain to be separated on record.

twins holding hands in hospital bed after being separated by surgery
instagram | @geminiuntwined

After they recover in the hospital together, Arthur and Bernardo will undergo six months of rehabilitation.

Understandably, the scene was emotional once the team and the boys' family realized this dream had finally come true.

As Jeelani put it, "There were a lot of tears and hugs. It was wonderful to be able to help them on this journey."

h/t: People