Connected by the skull, these conjoined twins were separated using virtual reality

Arthur and Bernardo Lima, three and a half years old, have been hospitalized in Rio de Janeiro since birth. And it’s not for nothing that these twins are connected by the skull. To separate them without endangering them, the medical team performed extremely complex operations using virtual reality. And it’s a success.

After nine surgeries, including one on June 7 at 1 p.m. and a second on June 9, 2022 at 11 p.m., Arthur and Bernardo can now face each other. Until now, these Brazilian conjoined twins were connected by the skull and therefore shared several vital blood vessels.

It was therefore necessary to prepare for months before going to the operating room. In total, about a hundred surgeons from different countries, led by Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, took part in these marathon operations. Before the intervention, they had very little hope, as explained by neurosurgeon Gabriel Mufarrej, of the Paulo Niemeyer Brain Institute (IECPN), quoted by The Union : “At first no one thought they would survive. It is historic that both could be saved.”

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“The most complex operation”

These nine surgeries were made possible with the help of Gemini Untwined, a London-based charity specializing in conjoined twin separation and complex neuro- and craniofacial surgery. To date it is “the most complex operation” never performed on conjoined twins.

But the most disturbing and fascinating thing is how the surgeons prepared for the operations. Indeed, they used virtual reality (VR) to reconstruct Arthur and Bernardo’s anatomy. Over several months, various surgical techniques were tested on VR projections obtained via CT scans (or tomography) and MRIs of the twins. During this preparation phase, the team wore helmets, giving the impression “space age”.

“These operations are considered the most difficult of our time, and it was really a man thing on Mars to do them in virtual reality.”

Neurosurgeon Noor ul Owase Jeelan, quoted by The Union

From now on, Arthur and Bernardo await a long recovery. However, if the separation is successfully achieved, the medical team still does not know how these twins will be able to live a normal life.

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