Two heads are better than one — so goes the popular saying.
But there are times when two heads are a big problem, such as with a new born baby delivered on Tuesday at a hospital in Ogudu on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria.
It has two heads with oxygen tube strapped on each, a neck, chest, two legs and two hands.
Doctors at Med-In Specialist Hospital, Osogbo Street, who took the delivery, said the baby was born around 6:30pm on Tuesday through an elective caesarean section. Its mother, surgeon and nurses entered the theatre prepared to take delivery of a set of twins as indicated by the various scans she underwent in the course of the pregnancy.
But what they saw were two heads sharing a body.
At the hospital yesterday, it was gathered that the baby was resuscitated and transferred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) for advance care.
According to one of the nurses who was in the delivery room, they had prepared two cots for each of the twins but were shocked when they saw that they were conjoined.
“This is the first time I am seeing anything like this. I have watched it in movies but seeing it in real life was such an experience for me. Thankfully, the surgeon ensured that they survived.
“As I speak to you, the mother doesn’t know the condition of the babies. She still believes and expects to carry her twins. We haven’t told her yet. Only her husband was brought into the theatre to see his children and he was the one who went with the doctors to LUTH,” said the nurse.
In medical parlance, the condition is known as Parapagus. It is a rare form of partial twinning where there are two heads and two necks side by side on one torso.
Such cases are rampant in India and doctors say they cannot be separated since they have only one pair of arms and one pair of legs and one heart. This disorder is different from conjoined twins as the baby has only one set of internal organs. The extremely rare case is thought to be brought on during the early stages of pregnancy as a result of genetic mutation.
Med-In Hospital Manager Dare Moses said the baby was taken to LUTH so that tests can be conducted to ascertain if they share also vital organs like hearts and lungs.
He said: “There is need to find out if they share major organs together. They may have to be flown abroad for separation if they have separate hearts and other vital organs. It is possible for them to survive. I have seen cases of twins like this in movie surviving and living normal lives.
“Normally, when we have cases of pregnant woman expecting twins, we usually go for elective caesarean, which was what the mother opted for.
“But when the doctor was trying to extract one of the babies (first one), it got stuck and when he examined further, he discovered that there were two heads in one body. We are happy that the baby was delivered alive and placed on oxygen. Both heads were alive.
“It was really amazing. I am proud and thankful that we delivered the baby alive. Yes, several scans were done by the mother in the course of pregnancy at different places, but none discovered any abnormality. We are thankful that the operation was successful.”
According to a doctor, who refused to be named, the babies were meant to come as identical twins and must have shared the same sac and placenta.
She said: “Nobody can specifically say the reason for the condition. At different stages during pregnancies. Twins divide but these ones didn’t divide fully. We can’t really say if they have only two pairs of legs and hands, there’s a possibility the other pairs are inside. But we don’t know yet.
“There are so many things we can’t really determine physically. That’s why several scans would be conducted, including CT Scans, to know their exact condition and the best option.
“It is a situation that would be best managed abroad because it requires the putting together of a team of paediatric surgeons who must have the best facilities, which we do not have presently on Nigeria.
“We have good doctors but the materials are not there. Specialists in different fields would be working on them at the same time if they are to be separated. Chances of their survival in Nigeria are very poor giving the realities of our society.
“If they can’t be separated and are left to survive, people might ridicule them or see them as curses, which isn’t good. But in other climes, some conjoined twins have survived to adulthood and they are doing fine.
“You should also know that it would be very expensive to foot the bills, and it isn’t what any parent can handle alone. The government and good spirited individuals would have to assist them so that the kids stay alive. All we want is to give them as much chances as they can possibly get to survive.
“Our medical system in Nigeria is in poor shape. Even at the teaching hospitals, chances are that they may not even have those necessary equipment to support survival of children like this. There is need for a multi-specialist team, drawn from various teaching hospitals, to handle cases like this and they should be provided the right equipment.”
The Ministry of Health has been notified of the development. The hospital plans to inform the baby’s mother.