Professor Nguyen Thanh Liem, the first in Vietnam to separate successfully conjoined twins

Commentary:Vietnam’s medicine has produced some great physicians and surgeons. Dr. and Prof. Nguyen Thanh Liem is a pediatric surgeon and has taken successfully some challenging surgical cases. Hat off to him for the good work and dedication.

Prof. Nguyen Thanh Liem

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It takes a miracle to successfully separate conjoined twins and bring them up as healthy children, and sometimes miracles just don’t occur.

Bao and Toan are pictured by their mother.

For Nguyen Van Loi and Dam Thi Chuyen, from central Nghe An province’s Quynh Luu commune, the survival of their conjoined twin sons, Cu and Co, is indeed a modern life miracle.

Their humble house amid a desolate valley is imbued with the two little boys’ laughter and chatter.

“There is nothing valuable in our home, except for our three kids,” Chuyen confided.

With their eldest a girl, they were elated that they were expecting twin boys this time.

Since Chuyen’s delivery was a difficult one, the doctors at the commune’s hospital decided to perform a C-section immediately.

“I was exulted to hear the babies’ cries when a nurse came out of the delivery room, looking serious and carrying only one tray,” Loi recalled about his wife’s delivery four years ago.

He anxiously kept asking himself if there was something wrong with one of his boys.

“During 30 years of working as an obstetrician, I have never had such a case. Your twins are conjoined,” a veteran doctor told Loi.

Loi was speechless with fear. He randomly named his boys Cu and Co to complete the paperwork.

While the whole family was still stunned and did not know what to do, that afternoon Cu’s entire body began to turn purple and pale.

The doctors immediately transferred the twins to Hanoi’s Central Pediatrics Hospital.

The transferal paper was signed at 5 pm but the infants did not begin their trip to Hanoi until 9 that night., since their parents were too poor to hire the hospital’s ambulance to take them to Hanoi.

With only VND 500,000 (US$ 24 US) on Chuyen at that time and with VND 2 million collected from their relatives, she had to ask her brother to sell her wedding ring which her husband, Loi, had saved up for a year to buy.

“I did not agonize over my wounds as much as the fact that my little boys’ lives were threatened,” Chuyen emotionally recalled.

“With congenital heart disease, Cu stands a mere 30% chance of survival. You should prepare for the worst scenario,” Loi was told.

Cu and Co both were suffering from dangerous illnesses Cu had narrowed lungs in addition to his heart defect, while Co had intestinal congestion.

15 days after being admitted to Hanoi’s Pediatrics Hospital, the twins underwent a major operation as their conditions were deteriorating rapidly, endangering their lives.

“Though the twins were very weak at that time, and they weighed just 6.4 kgs together, we couldn’t wait any longer,” recalled Dr. Nguyen Thanh Liem, who led the surgery team.

“We couldn’t say anything with certainty about the surgery’s chance of success,” Dr. Liem noted.

With the twins’ conditions worsening quickly, in December 2008, the surgery got underway, five days earlier than scheduled.

Since they were unable to afford hire a car to take Cu’s body home if he didn’t survive, Loi finally resorted to buying a sports bag. He would hide Cu’s body in the bag, and take it on a coach as a normal luggage item.

The following morning, as the operation was taking place, Loi waited outside and looked down at the black bag nearby. Tears welled up in the poor father’s eyes.

Amazingly, the operation was a success. Through a miracle, Cu’s heart surgery that took place three days later that was also successful. Loi immediately burned the bag to avoid the bad luck it might bring to his sons.

Two months later, Cu and Co were discharged from the hospital and reunited with their waiting mother at home.

Cu and Co’s parents later changed their sons’ names to Nguyen Tuan Bao and Nguyen Tuan Toan respectively, as the names combined in Vietnamese expressed their parents’ fervent hopes that both of them would be safe and sound.

The twins spent the following years in and out of hospitals to treat different illnesses. Their parents struggled hard to make ends meet and pay their treatment fees.

Loi and Chuyen still regularly spend sleepless nights at hospital tending to their sickly boys.

But all their hardship and fatigue was relieved when they saw their little sons frolicking merrily just like their peers.

Tearful coach rides

Not all parents of conjoined twins are blessed with such complete happiness. Some lose both of their twins, while others lose one of them.

Cao Thi Phuong, from central Nghe An province’s Thai Hoa town, the mother of conjoined twins Nghia and Dan, still remembers the excruciating agony she felt when she lost Dan 10 years ago.

Nghia and Dan were born conjoined at the abdomen and shared several organs, including the heart, lung membranes, breastbone and bile stem.

This was one of the most complicated conjoined twin cases Hanoi’s Central Pediatrics Hospital had ever encountered.

But to their parents and everyone’s elation, the challenging operation was quite successful. The surgeons decided to let Dan have the bile stem, while Nghia’s bile duct was connected to his intestines.

With the twins’ conditions progressing well, everyone expected the best for both of them.

“I still distinctly remember my ecstasy when I breastfed each of them months after my delivery,” Phuong confided.

But her happiness didn’t last long, as Dan’s condition later deteriorated rapidly, though the doctors considered him to be more stable than Nghia, as he had the bile stem.

But it seemed a cruel twist of fate that Dan became increasingly weaker as his bile duct failed to function.

Every day Phuong and her husband would talk to Dan, faintly hoping their loving words could help in his battle to survive.

But no miracle happened this time.

Phuong and her husband brought their boys home, so that Dan could take his last breath in the comfort of their home.Sadly, however, he didn’t even make it home.

“The coach had just passed Thanh Hoa province (approximately 150 km from Hanoi) when he passed away, two months after the surgery,” Phuong recalled in tears.

With Dan gone, Nghia became his parents’ only asset, though he too has been fighting hard to survive.

10 days after Dan was laid to rest, Nghia’s liver became seriously swollen.

His mother took him back to Hanoi, where the doctors said they could do nothing to help.

She then turned to traditional medicine, but her desperate efforts were of no avail, as Nghia’s belly got increasingly bigger.

On the coach ride back home, Phuong hugged her son hard, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she feered that Nghia would leave her, just as his twin brother did.

Fortunately, her fear didn’t come true.

Refusing to give up, the couple tried every possible way to seek treatment for their son.

Fortunately, after taking three doses of alternative medicine prescribed by a famed local practitioner, Nghia’s illness gradually abated.

Even four after the separation operation, whenever Nghia was awake, his mother had to hold him so that his wounds in the abdominal area wouldn’t drip.

As a regular visitor to local clinics, most of the doctors there charged him half the usual fees.

Despite his poor health and constant bouts of illness, Nghia, dubbed ‘superman’ by his mother, never gave up.

Though the 10-year-old doesn’t feel well for about three days a week, he has never missed a day of school and has set a shining example for his younger sister.

He is always cheerful and optimistic and isn’t bothered by the fact that he has to take a lot of medicine every day.

Though Dan has been gone for 10 years, locals often call Nghia ‘Nghia Dan’, which is suggestive of the intimate bonds the twins shared since their conception in their mother’s womb.

Source Tuoi Tre

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