• U.S.

Medicine: Double Thais

2 minute read

The “Siamese twins” on the operating table in the University of Chicago’s Billings Hospital last week were, for a change, truly Siamese.* Prissana and Napit Polpinyo, aged 22 months, were the daughters of a couple who both teach in a village school. They were joined from breastbone to navel by a band, six inches in diameter, of bone, muscle and flesh. At the suggestion of Obstetrician George Callahan of Waukegan, who saw them in Thailand last year, the twins were flown to Chicago for study and possible operation.

Tests showed that although there was an opening through which organs could “migrate” from one child’s abdominal cavity to the other’s, the only vital link was at their livers. These were fused into one large organ, but each child had normal bile ducts and gall bladder connections. This greatly simplified the task of the operating team, headed by Surgeon Lester R. Dragstedt.

Under ether, the breastbone linkage was removed. Then the liver was simply cut in two. Until recent years, this would have been highly hazardous because of the tendency to excessive bleeding. Dr. Dragstedt’s team plastered the cut surfaces of liver with Gelfoam and stitched it lightly to the liver tissue. This would prevent all but light bleeding, and absorb the rest.

Prissana and Napit came through the 3½-hour operation in good condition, and were wheeled to the recovery room. There, Nurse Jirapon Karsemsak (who had accompanied them from Bangkok) suggested that they be put in the same bed, to guard against the emotional shock they might suffer on waking from the anesthetic and finding themselves separated. She was right: the first twin to regain consciousness immediately reached for her sister, then searched until she was moved around and found her at the opposite end of the bed. This week, the danger that the doctors had feared—peritonitis, from seepage of bile into the abdominal cavity—seemed to have passed, and the Thai twins, no longer “Siamese,” were doing fine.

*The original “Siamese” twins, Chang and Eng, though born in Thailand (Siam) in 1811, had a Chinese father and half-Chinese mother.

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