Thursday, April 7, 2016

Conjoined Twins, a Trip to Saudi Arabia and a Risky Operation

Ben Hubbard, New York Times [original article contains links]

Image from, with caption: In a statement today Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah, Head of the Multidisciplinary Team, explained that the Iraqi Conjoined Twins, Fatima and Zahra, arrived at KAMC-Riyadh on 5 February 2006 “6/01/1427H” and were admitted to the hospital

[A] long­-running Saudi program [is] to separate conjoined twins who come from poor families around the world. Dr. Abdullah Al-­Rabeeah, the surgeon who leads the program, said that since 1990 it had performed 40 procedures for families from 20 countries — on three continents — who could not otherwise afford the costly operations. ...The program has not widely reported its work in scientific journals; Dr. Rabeeah said 70 of its 74 patients were still alive.
Dr. James O’Neill, a professor of pediatric surgery at Vanderbilt
University Medical Center who has also separated large numbers of conjoined
twins, said he did not know much about the Saudi program. But after looking
into it, Dr. O’Neill said the program appeared to be one of the largest of its
type in the world. “On a surface level, it sounds quite valid,” he said.
Success, he noted, should be measured not only by survival rates, but also by
the causes of death for patients who did not make it, and the quality of life for
those who did. ...
The program is housed at the King Abdullah Specialist Children’s Hospitalin Riyadh, which is run by the Saudi National Guard. It is driven by a mix ofroyal largess, Islamic charity and shrewd public diplomacy.
King Salman approves individual cases and the government foots the bills,
giving patients and their families first-­class plane tickets and free
accommodations. The operations are heavily promoted by the local newsmedia . ... “It is a unique, rare anomaly that draws the attention of society and of
anyone who wants to help, and I have become enormously attached to it,” said
Dr. Rabeeah, 66, a grandfatherly Canadian­-trained surgeon who has become
something of a national hero. ...

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