Surviving twin Hira may return soon

By Zubeida Mustafa

TORONTO, April 6: The 30- month-old surviving conjoined twin, Hira Jamal, who was separated from her sister, Nida, in January at the Hospital for Sick Children after a 17-hour operation, is doing well and will shortly be returning home to Karachi.

On Wednesday, Hira underwent a reconstructive surgery on her scalp. If the post-operation healing is normal, as Dr Harold Hoffman, the neurosurgeon under whose care Hira has been, hopes it will be, the infant should be released from the hospital in a few weeks.

Hira’s Siamese twin sister was Nida, from whom she had been inseparable for over two years until Dr Hoffman performed a surgical feat to separate them. Nida died a month after the operation. The two girls along with a third, Faryal, were born to Fatema Jamal in October 1992 in a Nazimabad clinic. Faryal was normal, while the other two were joined at the head — a rare condition said to occur in one in two million births.

Hira and Nida spent the first two years of their lives at the National Institute of Child Health in Karachi. The turning point came when Dawn carried a report on them and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto announced that the government would help bear the cost of the twins’ surgery abroad. Since then the Hira-Nida story has been a remarkable tale of human compassion, professional devotion and skill and fund-raising which has transcended international boundaries. Talking to Dawn, Dr Hoffman was full of praise for his team which participated in the operation that has given Hira the chance to lead a normal life. A price had to be paid and Nida died. Dr Hoffman said: “The case was more complicated than we had initially believed. Nida’s kidneys were not functioning and we had to transplant one of Hjra’s organs in Nida. Hira’s heart was under strain since it was pumping blood into her twin sister’s circulatory system. If we had not operated, both would have died. In spite of the risk factors, I had been hopeful for both.”

About 10 surgeons and specialists have been involved in this case — one of the 30 recorded in medical history when an attempt has been made to separate Siamese twins joined at the head. They have waived their fees. The Pakistani community in Toronto has so far raised 260,000 dollars to help meet the hospital costs and the board and lodging expenses of the twins’ parents and the third sister who accompanied them to Canada. The Pakistan government’s contribution has been to the tune of 135,000 dollars. PIA provided free tickets.

Dr Hoffman is confident that Hira will grow up to be a normal child. At present she is undergoing ‘therapy to help her sit, stand and walk, which she could not do before, because of her handicap. Initially after the operation, she missed her twin sister, Nida, but has forgotten her now. Without the medical / surgical skills, nursing and therapy offered by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Hira’s chances of survival would have been nil. The Pakistani community pitched in with fund raising and social support to help the Jamal family tide over the crisis.

Dawn: 07-04-1995