The Japanese prof. Fujimoto Burno separated successfully the first conjoined twins in Vietnam

Fujimoto Burno (L) is pictured with Duc (R) and their friends.

Japanese professor Fujimoto Burno has always stood by Nguyen Duc, the survivor of a pair of conjoined twins who underwent a momentous separation operation 24 years ago.

One evening early in August, Nguyen Duc and his wife Nguyen Thanh Tuyen’s small, cozy house was filled with overwhelming joy as the couple and their young twins were visited by professor Burno, Duc’s adoptive father and mentor, who came over from Japan.

The little boy, Phu Si, and his twin sister, Anh Dao, whose names mean Fuji and Sakura in Japanese, gathered around their adoptive grandfather and eagerly awaited his gifts.

Burno then changed into formal attire and earnestly prayed in front of the altar of Viet, Duc’s twin brother who passed away several years ago after an operation to separate the conjoined twins.

This is one of many visits Burno has paid to Viet and Duc over the last 24 years.

Long-standing destined relationship

Back in 1985, professor Burno learned of two young Agent Orange victims in Hanoi.

The little girls’ heartrending stories and images, together with his active participation in anti-Vietnam War campaigns as a young man, pulled him to come over to Vietnam to study and meet them.

But by the time Burno arrived in Hanoi, the girls had passed away, leaving him with a sense of guilt for arriving too late.

He later learned of Nguyen Viet and Nguyen Duc, a set of conjoined twins, whose case was attracting widespread attention.

He immediately took a train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.“On that train, I had a distinct feeling that I was going to have a preordained relationship,” Burno recalled.

The professor was moved to tears when he learned of Viet and Duc’s pitiable plight. The question of what he could do to help them has haunted him ever since.

Soon after meeting the boys he returned to Japan and began a relentless call for help and donations from the Japanese government and people by establishing the Negaukai Foundation to sponsor the surgery to separate the twins.

“I was deeply touched, as many people were willing to help the twins out. I have never seen such passionate human bonds and affection before,” the professor said.

The tremendous financial and mental support supplied by Japanese friends, particularly professor Burno, helped Duc overcome hardship prior to, during and after the operation.

He thus named his boy and girl twins after Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji and Sakura (cherry blossom) to express his profound gratitude to them.

After the success of the Viet-Duc operation, through the association, Burno continued to assist the boys, as well as other disadvantaged children all over Vietnam. Though slowed by old age now, the 85-year-old professor remains the head of the association and still travels to different areas to call for help for poor children.

Robust vitality

Among his gifts from Japan, Burno brought Duc an Aogiri plant, which he dubbed the ‘plant of vitality’. Last year, during his trip to Japan to visit Burno and his wife, Duc talked with students at an elementary school. Deeply moved and inspired by Duc’s lifelong struggle, the students planted an Aogiri, which, for the Japanese, symbolizes robust vitality and determination.

After the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US during the final stages of World War II in 1945, no vegetation grew in the areas. But the Aogiri plants were an exception, as they grew well.

Many Japanese who talked to Duc likened him to the Aogiri plant for his steadfast will to live and combat hurdles.“I’m much luckier than my twin brother, Viet, for being able to live a normal life. I keep reminding myself to try my hardest to overcome the hardships for both my brother and me,” confided Duc, who Burno lovingly calls ‘his Aogiri son’, in front of Viet’s altar

.The separation journey

Nguyen Viet and Nguyen Duc were conjoined twins born to a farming couple in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum province in 1981. It was though that their condition was caused by dioxin, a poison contained in the defoliant which the U.S. military sprayed over vast areas during the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1970.

Viet and Duc’s mother had farmed and drank water from a well in the impacted area since the war ended, before conceiving the boys.

A case of dicephalic parapagus, the twins were conjoined at the pelvis with one anus, one penis, one urinary tract, one bladder, two kidneys and three legs.

Unable to care for them, their parents took the twins to Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. According to the Japan Times Online, when Viet came down with a life-threatening brain fever in 1988, a team of Japanese and Vietnamese doctors decided to surgically separate the twins, who were 7 years old.

The operation was a major success, giving them the independence they long wished for. The twins visited Japan numerous times before and after the surgery to receive medical treatment. After surviving one of the most prominent surgeries in Vietnam’s history, though Duc has only one leg and has to walk with crutches, he grew up to be a healthy, productive young man.

Against all odds, Duc learned computer programming and he currently works at Tu Du hospital’s Hoa Binh Village for Disadvantaged children in Ho Chi Minh City, where he and his brother grew up.

He married Tuyen in 2006 and the couple has two healthy twins, a boy and a girl. Duc has taken part in many charity activities for the disabled, and Agent Orange victims in particular.

Duc’s twin brother, Viet, was not as fortunate. He also ended up with one leg, but was bedridden and led an almost vegetative, immobile life thanks to the brain fever that struck him before the surgery. His health continued to deteriorate until he passed away from liver failure, abdominal bleeding and pneumonia in late 2007, aged 26.

  • According to,conjoined twins are identical twins whose bodies are joined in utero. Conjoined twins occur in approximately 1 in every 40,000 births, but only once in every 100,000 to 200,000 live births.
  • 60% of conjoined twins are either stillborn or lost in utero, and 35% of twins that survive birth die within the first 24 hours (mostly because the most common conjoined locations involve important systems such as the heart).
  • Conjoined twins are most likely to be female – 71.62% are girls, while 28.38% are boys. This is because male twins are more likely to be miscarried (as are all male babies).
  • They are most likely to occur in India or Africa, though the rates in Vietnam have been much higher in recent years, possibly due to Agent Orange exposure.
  • 1 in every 400 identical twin pregnancies will be conjoined twins.
  • The Viet-Duc twins were among an unusually high number of conjoined twins born in Vietnam in the 1980s.
  • The Viet-Duc twins are a case of dicephalic parapagus: Twins share a body from the neck or upper chest downward, having only two legs and one set of reproductive organs. They can have two, three or four arms. If separate hearts are present, these twins have a good prognosis for long, healthy lives if not separated.

 Source Tuoi Tre

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