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Iranian Twins Die After Separation Surgery - 2003-07-08

Two Iranian conjoined twins, who won the world's attention and support, have died during a dramatic surgical attempt to separate their fused skulls. Doctors at Raffles Hospital in Singapore say 29-year-old Laleh and Ladan Bijani died after two days of delicate surgery. The surgery began on Sunday under the 24-hour watch of 28 specialists and 100 medical assistants.

Doctors managed to separate the Bijani sisters for a short time prior to their deaths, which occurred only 90 minutes apart.

"A lot of blood was lost," said Mr. Loo Choon Yong, the executive chairman of the Raffles Medical Group. "Despite the best efforts of the medical team, the twins were subsequently in a critical state."

The twins had separate brains, which were tightly packed together, but shared just one main blood vessel. Earlier, doctors took a vein from Ladan's thigh to create a bypass. Then they say they had to work millimeter by millimeter to pry the brains apart.

This week's surgery was the first time such an advanced procedure was attempted on adults and the doctors say they are waiving their fees for the surgery. Two years ago, lead surgeon Dr. Keith Goh successfully separated 10-month-old Nepalese twins.

Government officials in Iran are expressing grief at the news. Besides providing moral support, Iran's government paid $300,000 toward the surgery.

Mr. Loo echoed the sentiment in Iran, adding that many are saddened by the news.

"Ladan and Laleh have a much bigger family than in Iran," he said. "All the people in Iran, in Singapore, and all the hearts that they have touched."

The two sisters knew there was risk before agreeing to the procedure. They said they were willing to accept the possibility of death in exchange for a chance to pursue independent lives.