Fourteen Years In The Unmaking
VANI and Veena are a pair of conjoined twins born in Hyderabad in India. They have just entered a crucial stage of their development as teenage girls (both emotional and cognitive) when they celebrated their 14th birthday together. The twins are happy that they had the opportunity to spend the day together – like they do year after year. Their nearest and dearest were present, so too a slab of cake; it had been a joyous celebration that any set of siblings would have enjoyed. There is a snag in their tale, however. One could consider it a near miracle that the twosome had made it so far into their lives.
Vani and Veena are craniopagus twins. It is an extremely rare condition where a set of twins are fused at the head in utero. Siblings that are born with craniopagus represent the rarest form of congenital abnormalities among conjoined twins. Only 0.001-0.002 percent of babies born in the United States of America are afflicted with the condition – as a matter of perspective. Craniopagus accounts for a mere 2-6 percent of all the conjoined births variations. Oddly, twins born this way are always of the same sex and the condition is more prevalent on the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia.
The two were born in the Nalgonda district of Telangana and it had been a rough ride since day one. The caste system in India is unfortunately still a very real entity and her parents form part of the unlucky horde that struggle to unshackle themselves from poverty. They could barely afford looking after one child; much less seeing to the necessities of special needs children. Vani and Veena had to be given up as toddlers.
They have called the Niloufer Hospital in Hyderabad their home for the last 11 years. There was an early attempt to separate them as babies, but this operation had not been successful. The pair’s parents felt afterwards that they had no choice but to place them in the care of the hospital’s staff (since 2004) for the foreseeable future. Vani and Veena have subsequently spent the larger portion of their lives in the same small room fitted with one tiny window as the only access to the outside world.
There is a rather saddening spin on their story in that their parents would only be able to take them into their care once more if they are successfully separated. That is the condition set hitherto, unfortunately. To make matters worse, it seems as though an attempt at separating them is quite unlikely as their age may complicate any efforts at detaching their skulls.
“There would be nobody to look after Veena and Vani if we take them home without first getting them surgically separated. We have been waiting for that for over a decade. We cannot fund their education and meet their other needs without any government help,” their father, Murali told media outlets.
Preparations have been made to move Vani and Veena to a special home that can cater to their needs more efficiently. The special care would be a welcome change as the conditions in the hospital had not been conducive to the health and development of the twins. Mujtaba Hasan Askari from the charity Helping Hand Foundation said that the “air-conditioning ducts and filters need regular cleaning, but that is hardly done, making them prone to developing skin rashes.” He added, “It is unfortunate that the government’s delay in rehabilitating them outside the hospital is beginning to take a toll on their health.”
Dr Narendra Kumar (Vani and Veena’s doctor), a Hyderabad based paediatric surgeon has turned to two neurology specialists out of London, Dr. David Dunaway and Dr. Owase Jeelani in an attempt to separate the twins. The doctors have agreed that there is at least an 80 percent chance of survival should they have another go at an operation.
Dr Kumar said that success is likely given that both of them possess their own respective brains. He feels however that the core danger may present itself in the severing and subsequent reattachment of a main blood vessel that the twins share.
It’s all speculation up until this point, unfortunately. Doctors Dunaway and Jeelani claim that Vani and Veena would need a total of five operations to fully complete the separation. This means that the twins will spend a year in and out of the operating room. They are lucky that a Hyderabad hospital owns the necessary equipment to conduct intra-arterial digital subtraction angiography – a procedure conducted to determine the location of vital blood vessels and arteries.
Fundraising attempts have been unsuccessful up to this point. The amount of money required for an operation of such a complex nature is astronomical. Vani and Veena’s chance at freedom regrettably remains all theoretical.