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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surgery to Separate Twins Clears a Hurdle

SINGAPORE -- Neurosurgeons overcame an obstacle Monday that experts had previously said would make separation surgery on two Iranian twin sisters nearly impossible without killing one or both, a hospital official said.

An international team of five neurosurgeons successfully rerouted a vein as thick as a finger, which joined the two brains of 29-year-old Ladan and Laleh Bijani, in an unprecedented operation that is expected to last two to four days, a Raffles Hospital official said on condition of anonymity.

The development paved the way for surgeons to begin separating the twins' brains, the official said.

Tackling the shared vein was considered the biggest obstacle in the surgery: Other than sharing the vein, the women's brains are not joined -- although they touch inside their skulls. Their bodies are otherwise distinct. German doctors told the twins in 1996 that the shared vein, which drains blood from their brains, made surgery too dangerous.

The operation could kill one or both of the sisters, but after a lifetime of compromising on everything from when to wake up to what career to pursue, the Bijani sisters said they would rather face those dangers than continue living joined.

Before dawn, surgeons began stitching a vein taken from Ladan's thigh to one of the twin's brains to compensate for the removal of the shared vein, hospital spokesman Dr. Prem Kumar said. He would not say who received the original, finger-thick shared vein.

"Nothing is going on at a hurried pace," he said. "There's lots of discussion."