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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Conjoined Twins Will Try Risky Surgery to Separate

Aired June 11, 2003 - 20:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER: Next month, surgeons in Singapore will try to separate two Iranian sisters joined at the head. We're not talking about children these are women aged 29 years old. And they said today they are determined to go ahead with the surgery, although it could possibly be fatal to one or even both of them.
LADAN BIJANI, CONJOINED TWIN: We don't have any fears about the surgery.

LAHEH BIJANI, CONJOINED TWIN: Because we know that every surgery has a high risk.

COOPER: Well, this has a very high risk.

Joining me from the CNN center in Atlanta to talk about the risks of the operation, our medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, you know better than anyone, you're a neurosurgeon.

Tell us how tough an operation is this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is sort of one of those operations where the rubber hits the road for neurosurgeons. One of the most intricate operations, trying to separate conjoined twins as children, difficult enough. Certainly as adults, this will be the first time it's been attempted. What makes it so challenging, let me show you a brain model here. They talk about the fact that these two brains are separate but within the same skull. That is true to a certain extent but there's probably a sharing of blood vessels which all hang out in this region. If you take a looking at the images of these two women, their brains are connected sort of in this region of the brain.

On the right side for one twin, on the left side for the other. These blood vessels Anderson can kind of be like spaghetti. Sort of imagine a bunch of blood vessels together. Oftentimes, very hard to separate those and figure out which blood vessel goes to which brain. They talk about over 100 medical personnel being needed in this operation. Nurses, doctors. It could take over four days to do this sort of thing. Requiring neurosurgeons, and radiologists. This is one of the most challenging operations out there.

COOPER: That's unbelievable, 100 people, four days, amazing. There is no medical necessity to do this operation. I think you told me in the break these two women could live normal life spans if they remained connected as they are.

But why did they want the surgery now?

GUPTA: Excellent point. This is still considered an elective operation, which is amazing, because it could potentially be so dangerous. Still considered elective in that they probably would live a normal life span. You know, as far as why they want to do it now, they're 29 years old, educated, their Iranian, and they have been living their lives. The question was posed by journalists today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLIJANI: I want to continue the law, to become a lawyer. But my sister wants to find -- be a journalist like you. And we have a lot of work to do. A lot of dreams to do after surgery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: So you can see there, Anderson, one wanting to be a lawyer, one wanting to be a journalist. They've gone their different directions except for the fact that they're still connected at the head. And I think this is why they want to have that operation. It's so hard to imagine what their lives must be like. But clearly, they've determined they don't want to be connected any longer.

COOPER: It's so sad listening to one of the sisters talk. I mean, their dreams could be shattered. One of them could die, both of them could die. This is a very tough surgery we'll be following closely.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, appreciate you join us, thanks a lot.

GUPTA: Thank you, Anderson.

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