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Conjoined Iranian Twins Return Home in Separate Coffins After Failed Surgery - 2003-07-10

The bodies of Ladan and Laleh Bijani, the adult twins conjoined at the head who died during a high-risk operation to separate them, have been returned to their home in Iran. Solemn music played at Tehran's airport, as the bodies of Ladan and Laleh Bijani were carried from an airplane Thursday, their journey from Singapore complete. Family and friends looked on as a Muslim cleric prayed over the coffins, each one draped in a traditional Iranian patterned cloth, with a bouquet of flowers tied on with a black ribbon.

Although it did not come until death, it was the first time the Iranian sisters' bodies have been separate. The conjoined twins spent most of their life searching for a medical team to separate their fused skulls. Their journey took them to Singapore, where they died at Raffles Hospital Tuesday from blood loss following 50 hours of high-risk surgery.

The plane carrying their bodies departed Singapore early Thursday morning. The previous night, several hundred people gathered in a Singapore mosque for a memorial service. Many Singaporeans who never met the sisters remember them with fondness.

"I was hoping, you know, that they would pull it off, but you know, that's not in our hands, and I truly believe that right now they're in a better place," one man said. Raffles Hospital held its own memorial service earlier that day, attended by many of the specialists and staff who collaborated on the twins' surgery.

Two years ago, the surgical team's lead neurosurgeon successfully separated conjoined infants from Nepal. But this week's surgery was the first time such a procedure was attempted on adults.

Other surgeons had refused the twins' request, saying it was too dangerous. The twins consented to the Singapore surgery knowing the risk, and saying they would rather die than continue to be deprived of their independence.

A counselor who helped prepare the twins emotionally for the surgery says the two learned to say "I love you" in Chinese, so they could say the phrase to medical staff when they awakened.

Iran is planning a national ceremony to honor the two sisters. Iranian President Mohamad Khatami praised the women's willingness to trust their fate to God. He called their journey "one page in the great book of destiny."

Hundreds of Iranians are expected to pay their respects in person, at Tehran's Grand Mosque, where the coffins will be until Friday. The two sisters are then to be flown to southern Iran, for burial in the town of their birth.