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Conjoined twins fight for life in Shanghai
By Hu Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-04 06:18

SHANGHAI: This is the tragic tale of conjoined twins who share a heart. And the heroic efforts of doctors at a city hospital to separate them.

The boys, Lu Dongfei and Lu Dongxiang, were abandoned in December several days after their birth in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui Province, because of this rural family's financial difficulties.

The conjoined twins lie in a hospital in Shanghai March 1, 2005. [newsphoto]

Their mother, 22-year-old Huang Baojing, who was severely ill after giving birth, did not know about them until February 28, according to reports.

The conjoined twins were accepted by Hefei Welfare Institute and doctors in Anhui Provincial Children's Hospital diagnosed the life-threatening malformation in their shared heart.

The infants have certainly struck the lottery of misery. The incidence of conjoined twins is one out of 200,000 births. The causes include genetic and environmental factors during pregnancy. But doctors said twins sharing a heart is much more rare; and could perhaps be the first reported case in the world.

In addition, their livers and intestines are connected and their bodies are connected for 15 centimetres from chest to navel.

Doctors at Shanghai East Hospital, where the twins are being treated, said more tests were needed to determine the course of surgery and how to install an artificial heart in one of them.

Should the risky surgery be successful, it would the groundbreaking - and the first case in which an artificial heart is implanted in someone so young.

"We have not come across such a case in any medical literature; their shared heart is terribly disformed and the symptoms are quite complicated," said Professor Liu Zhongmin, president of the hospital.

Liu said doctors hope to save both babies but the first thing they have to do is obtain clear diagnostic results for further surgery.

The babies landed at the Shanghai hospital after Liu, also director of the East Sino-German Heart Centre, and German Chinese Professor Wen Yuguo, vice-president of the German Heart Institute in Berlin, came across appeals for expert help from the Anhui children's hospital.

They contacted the children's hospital and decided to take the babies to Shanghai for further examination. Wen will fly from Germany tomorrow to conduct a joint diagnosis with Liu and other specialists before deciding on the course of treatment.

The German Heart Institute specializes in artificial hearts and has been collaborating with Liu's hospital for two years.

Doctors say both the babies would die if they are not separated because the malformed heart would not be able to support two bodies.

The babies were in a serious condition when they arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday: they had a lung infection, had difficulty breathing and the heartbeat was much more rapid than normal.

Doctors say their initial plan is to separate the joined chest, liver and intestines; the malformed heart will be mended for one baby while the other will have an artificial heart implanted.

Professor Fan Huimin of the hospital said it was hard to say when and how to perform the separation because they need further checks.

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