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Year : 2009  |  Volume : 53  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 294-301 Table of Contents     

Anaesthetic Management of Conjoined Twins' Separation Surgery

Head of Department, Anaesthesiology, Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical sciences, Whitefield, Bangalore-560066, India

Date of Web Publication3-Mar-2010

Correspondence Address:
Kolli S Chalam
Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical sciences, Whitefield, Bangalore-560066
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 20640136

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Anaesthesia for conjoined twins, either for separation surgery, or for MRI or other evaluation procedures is an enormous challenge to the paediatric anaesthesiologist. This is an extra challenging surgery because we the anaesthesiologists need to care for two patients at the same time instead of just one. Anaesthesia for conjoined twins 'separation surgery mainly centered on the following concerns: 1.Conjoined Twins' physiology like crossed circulation. distribution of blood volume and organ sharing with their anaesthetic implications. 2.Long marathon surgery with massive fluid shifts and loss of blood & blood components and their rapid replenishment. 3.Meticulous planning for organized management of long hours of anaesthetic administration in two paediatric subjects simultaneously with multi surgical specialties involvement and their unique requirements.We report the anaesthetic and intensive care management of one pair of Pygopagus separation surgery and also the review of literature and world statistics.

Keywords: Conjoined twins, Separation surgery, Anaesthesia, Monitoring

How to cite this article:
Chalam KS. Anaesthetic Management of Conjoined Twins' Separation Surgery. Indian J Anaesth 2009;53:294-301

How to cite this URL:
Chalam KS. Anaesthetic Management of Conjoined Twins' Separation Surgery. Indian J Anaesth [serial online] 2009 [cited 2021 Jan 28];53:294-301. Available from: https://www.ijaweb.org/text.asp?2009/53/3/294/60292

   Introduction Top

Conjoined twins are identical twins whose bodies are joined in utero. It is a rare phenomenon; it is estimated to range from I in 50,000 births to I in 200,000 births', with a somewhat higher incidence in Southwest Asia and Africa. They are identical twins (monozybotic and monochorionic) who develop with a single placenta li-om a single fertilized ovum. They are always the same sex and race. Approximately 75% of conjoined twin pairs are females. They are at a ratio of female to male 3:1.Ol'these, about 40% were stillborn, and 60% live born, although only about 25% ofthose that survived to birth lived long enough to be candi­dates Ior surgery. They are called miracle babies.

   Embryology Top

Two contradicting theories exist to explain the origins of conjoined twins. The older and most gener­ally accepted theory is fission, in which the fertilized egg splits partially. The second theory is fusion, in which a fertilized egg completely separates, but stem cells (which search for similar cells) find like-stem cells on

the other twin and 1 use the twins together. However, rather than 'fission' or 'fusion', the defect leading to con­joined twins may well be a coalescence by overlapping of closely contiguous twin embryonic axis formative fields within a single embryonic disc (Potter, 1952 Willis, 1962 ; Beckwith, 2003 [2],[3],[4] It is likely that fu­ture understanding ofembtyonic induction and organi­zational centers may radically change how we envision the initial development ol'this complex anomaly.

It is presently thought that these factors are re­sponsible for the failure oftwins to separate after the 13th day alter fertilization. Conjoined twins can be ar­tificially generated in amphibians by constricting the embryo so that two embryos form, one on each side of the constriction. There are no documented cases of conjoined triplets or quadruplets.

   Classification Top

Conjoined twins are usually classified by the point at which they are joined (the Greek word pagos, mean­ing "that which is fixed.") There have been as many as three dozen separate types identified in the last century. The following basic classifications can be com­bined to more closely define individual cases.

Craniopagus: There is cranial union only; it has an incidence ofabout 2% o fal I conjoined twins. Vari­ous Ibrms and orientations of fusion may be seen, with both neural and major vascular connections e.g., dural sinuses. Craniopagus parasiticus: A second bodiless head attached to the head. Dicephalus: Two heads, one body with two legs and two, three, or four arms (di brachius, tribrachius or tetrabrachi us, respectively.) Separation is possible; depending on how much ofthe brain is shared. There is high risk of brain damage.

Thoracopagus including Xiphopagus: Anterior union ofthe upper half of the trunk. This is the most common form of conjoined twins constituting approxi­mately 35 -40 % (Wall conjoined twins. Babies face one another and have major . junction at the level ofchest, with conjoined hearts and livers as well as upper gas­trointestinal (G.1) tract. Separation surgery depends on cardiac anatomy.

Om phalopagus: Joined at the chest or abdomen. Similar to thoracopagus twins, but in this case the twins do not share a heart. This is the second most common type olconjoined twins, representing 30-35% of the total. Highest rate ofseparation survival is reported in this class oftwins. Usually, only the liver is involved. Because the liver can regenerate itself, this scenario is preferred. A combination of types 1, 2 and 3 is called Cephalothoracopagus or Janus.

Pygopagus. Joined at the sacrum, are about 19% ofall conjoined twins. Separation is possible. The sur­vival rate is hiah.

Parapagus: lateral union ofthe lower half, ex­tending variable distances upward, about 5% ofall con­joined twins. Heart sometimes involved. Life with arti­ficial limbs is the result. Diprosopus: One head, with two faces side by side.

lschiopagus: Anterior union ofthe lower half of the body, about 6% of conjoined twins. Heart is not involved. They are joined at the pelvis. Separation is physically possible; however, excretion and sexual or­gans' impairment might result.

Parasitic Twins: Rare forms olconjoined twins, having different patterns.

  1. Parasitic twins: Asymmetrical conjoined twins, one twin being small, less formed and dependent upon the other.

Conjoined Twins (misnomer - Siamese Twins)

are commonly conceptualized as entangled singletons, two individual people who are tragically ensnared. This conceptualization implies that their situation is unnatu­ral and undesirable and demands recti lication through surgical separation. There are very few hospitals with expertise and in Ii-astructure to undertake conjoined twins 'separation surgery in the world. Till now about 250 separation surgeries have taken place around the world. It is still viewed by public with awe and wonder.

   Case summary Top

A pair ofmale Pygopagus conjoined twins aged 18 months from Sudan came to Abu Dhabi, the capital city olUnited Arab Emirates for the purpose o Isepa­ration surgery in the month of June 2004. This pair is a healthy looking and charming boys. Their mother gave birth under a tree in rural Sudan[Figure 1].

Thorough preoperative evaluation was initiated that included routine blood and urine analysis, coagu­lation screen; plain x-rays, ultra sound scans, computed tomography scans, Digital substraction angiography (DSA), to delineate anatomic and bone detail, demon­strating organ position, shared viscera, and limited vas­cular anatomy. This particular set oftwins has i) bony fusion at mid sacral posterior-lateral area. They have common spinal canal and thecal sacs, evidence of low conus and tethered cord with small syrinx within the inferior spinal cord o}'the twin 13.

ii) Separate urinary bladders with a likely com­mon urethra and common penis with 4 corpora cavernosa within the fused penis. Incidental bladder stone in twin B. iii) two separate rectums which appear to fuse distally near a common anal sphincter. iv) Bony fusion is along the mid sacral region of both the twins. At the level of the fusion numerous sacral ossification centers demonstrate atypical morphologies compatible with abnormal segmentation and separation. No other abnormality was noted. With the help of computer graphics 3 D model (computerized 3D virtual and physi­cal workbench) was developed for surgeons to script the surgical sequence[Figure 2].

Planning and rehearsals

Preoperative assessment and planning, with in­terdisciplinary communication and cooperation, is vital to the success of the separation operation. These twins require a dedicated team ofanaesthetists for each child, and, consequently, duplication of all monitoring equip­ment in one operating room is necessary. Meticulous attention to detail, monitoring, and vigilance are man­datory.Planning for the postoperative period in the in­tensive care unit (ICU), as well as the babies' recon­struction and rehabilitation is essential from the time of the initial admission.

During the weeks required for expansion ol'sac­ral region, representatives of the participating services about 40 personnel from Neurosurgery, plastic surgery, Urology, Pediatric Surgery, Pediatric anesthesiology, nursing, intensivists and operating room support staff met on several occasions to finalize the plan for the separation. The surgical plan, the anesthesia plan, staffing location of anesthesia and surgical equipment, pa­tient positioning and plan for repositioning after physi­cal separation were discussed.

An action plan for transfusion of blood and blood products was developed with the blood hank. The ana­esthesia monitoring system in our lamest operating the­atre was modified to allow each anaesthesia team to orient and view both twins' vital parameters.

   Induction Top

Eight weeks prior to actual separation surgery plastic surgeons placed tissue expanders in the gluteal regions to gain skin expansion for closure of the raw area at the time of separation surgery. Two anaesthesia teams with two different anaesthesia work station and monitoring equipment administered anaesthesia with LMA placement three times for putting tissue expand­ers and their adjustments. The intra-operative course and recovery were similarly uneventful.

Prior to induction the presence of cross-circulation was tested with the administration of anti-cholin­ergic agent like atropine administered to one twin and no change in heart rate was observed in other twin. It appeared that there was no cross circulation between the twins. Sequential induction is advised when there is little or no cross circulation. But we carried inhalational induction supplemented with intravenous agents simul­taneously as there is no significant cross circulation and both babies can be mask ventilated easily as they were facing opposite sides.

On the day of actual separation surgery i.e. 14.10.2004, the babies weighed together 20 Kg and aged 21 months and heights were 68 cm and 72 cm respectively. They were wheeled into theatre after pre-medicating with glycopyrrolate 0.1mg, ranitidine 25mg and midazolam 2mg to each child. Dedicated teams of anaesthetists for each child and consequently, duplica­tion of all monitoring and equipment in one operating room was organized to care them. Standard monitor­ing consisting of Sp02, EKG, and NIBP were insti­tuted. Induction was carried simultaneously for both the babies with sevollurane, oxygen in nitrous oxide. Once they were sufficiently deep enough venous ac­cess with

18G cannula was secured on the dorsum of right hand in Twin A and left hand ofTwin B and fenta­nyl 3 mcg.kg- 1 , propofol 2mg.kg -1 pancuronium 0.18mg.kg -1 were given. Mask ventilation and nasotracheal intubations were done sequentially. Nasotracheal intubation with 5.0 ID was chosen to optimize fixation of the endotracheal tubes as it was expected that the babies would be repositioned sev­eral times during, the course of surgery.

Radial artery and central venous lines utilizing left radial artery and right in ternal jugular veins with the guide of ultrasound were placed and connected to respec­tive monitors. Arterial BP, CVP were monitored along with respiratory variables like RR, TV, Paw, and ABG. Urinary bladder was catheterized for urine output mea­surement and naso pharyngeal temperature probe for temperature monitoring, neurom uscular monitoring were also placed.

Antibiotics namely augmentin (clavulanated gentamyc in and metronidazole were ad­ministered following induction of anaesthesia. Aprotinin (Trasylol) 1 ml.kg- 1 i.e. 10,000 units per Kg body weight was also given to abate hyperfibrinolytic haemostatic disturbance leading to massive blood loss.

Maintenance of anaesthesia was carried out with oxygen 33% in nitrous oxide 66% and isoflurane 0.5­1.2 % with additional top up doses of pancuron i um and fentanylintbsion in the dose of 25 mcg/hour to each twin. Twins were ventilated with pressure control mode with a tidal volume 10m1 to each baby and res­piratory rate of 14-18/m in to achieve eucapnic levels. Peak and plateau pressures were maintained at 15-16 cm of water.

Fluids like D5 in 0.45% saline was used utilizing the formula of 4+2+1 ml per Kg body weight to re­place the deficit. Ringer lactate was used as mainte­nance fluid. Third space losses were replenished with Ringer solution, Colloid (gelolusine) and blood (PRBC). Fluids and blood were pre warmed before transfusion. Even irrigation fluid was also pre-warmed.

Twins were draped and repositioned for theplastic surgical team to incise the skin and remove tissue ex­panders and excise excess old scar tissue and tempo­rarily sutured the flaps of skin tissue. Plastic surgeons use the new skin tissue created by the tissue expanders to cover the raw area at the end of surgery.

Neurosurgeons then joined and severed sacral bony union and dural communication but CSF leaked betbre ligation. It was repaired under magnifying microscope. Pediatric and urology team assessed urogenital and colorectal anatomy and separated the lour corpora of the united penis. Common rectum was divided. Poste­rior aspect ofthe urethra was also separated.

Pediatric surgical team actually separated twins at 18:30 hrs exactly after 6 and half hours after the onset of surgery. Two surgical teams consisting of pae­diatric and urology surgical teams carried out construc­tion of separate Anii, construction of urethra, perineal body, pelvic floor, fixation of testic les into the corre­sponding hem i scrotal pouch and covering the shall of penis with appropriate skin on two separate operating tables with radiant heaters . The glutei were sutured to scrotal detect. Primary skin closure with suction drains by plastic surgical team with rotation flaps was accomplished. Completion of surgery tookplace by midnight nearly taking total duration of 20 hours[Figure 3] a,b.

Intra-operative course

Each twin needed three units of PRBC and 2.2 liters ofcolloid and crystalloid. Twin B required low dose dopamine of 5mcg.kg-1.h-1 and nitroglycerine in­fusion of 0.5mcg.kg-1.h-1to maintain the filling pres­sures. It might be due to mild vasomotor instability. Mild hypokalaemia and hypocalcaemia needed correction. Heart rates were in the range of 108 to 128, mean 13P in the range of 65to94 and CVP6to 12 cm ofwater and temperatures were 33.4 degrees Celsius at the end ofsurgery.

Recovery and postoperative ICU care

Twins were shitted intubated, to ICU in separate trolleys for elective overnight ventilation. Morphine in­fusion was started in the dose of 20-30mcg.kg -1 .h -1 as pain relic fin the ICU. Both were extubated the next day morning at 11.30am. Nitroglycerine and dopam­ine infusions were tapered and stopped. Both the ba­bies maintained stable hemodynamics and good oxy­genation. There was no neurological deficit observed. Hypospadias correction was advised to be carried later in Twin B.

Second postoperative day twin B developed fever to 39 degrees centigrade and seizures responded to tepid sponging, paracetamol, and I nag midazolam, required respiratory assistance and so intubated and placed on ventilator. Dopamine and nitroglycerine were restarted to maintain pressures. Antibiotics were changed to cephatoxime, gentamycin and metronida­zole. Fourth post operative day TPN was started with dextrose and amino acids and intralipid was added two days later. CT scan brain was carried on 5th post op­erative day showed mild ventricular dilatation and CSF leak was also found. Repair ofCSF leak was carried out by neuro surgeons and skin was closed with rota­tion flap by plastic surgeons. CSF analysis and culture sensitivity showed enterococcus Iecalis required van­comycin administration. This twin turned stable to be extubated on 6th postoperative day. Both the twins became lit to be shifted to general ward from ICU by 1 0th postoperative day.

It was a scene Tor the news papers, TV channels and other public to take pictures and seeing them walk­ing separately [Figure 4]. This was the third pair who was operated in mali-aq hospital, Abu Dhabi. Parents proudly carried their children each one separately in their arms and happily flew to their country of Sudan after spend­ing a fortnight in general ward. They visited in subse­quent years Tor repair of hypospadias correction and other minor procedures. But they are hale and hearty carrying on their routine.

   Comments Top

Conjoined twinning is one ofthe most fascinating human malformations. Treating conjoined twins can be a daunting challenge for the surgeon as well as anaesthesiologist. There are numerous conjoined twins in today's society. Surgical separations occur more fre­quently and with greater success than before. Surgery to separate conjoined twins may range from relatively simple to extremely complex, depending on the point of attachment and the internal parts that are shared. Most cases ofseparation are extremely risky and lithreatenin In many cases, the surgery results in the death o Ione or both of the twins, particularly if they are . joined at the head, craniopagus. [5] The decision of separation when dealing with conjoined twins is an ex­tremely complicated one. It is a decision to be made solely by the parents. Separation is extremely risky. There is at best a fly shot o Isurvival when it comes to separation. If all possible surgery seems like the best option for Conjoined Twins. Parents should make the final and informed decision on separation only after examining the physical, ethical, and psychological as­pects °fa possible separation. [6]

It is a multidisciplinary team approach involving extensive medical work-up on patients, multiple meet­ings and discussions with all the involved specialties and supporting staff, involvement of parents, Psychosocial counseling olparents, rehearsal ofthe planned surgical procedure, media contact prior to Surgery. The ratio­nale for deferring surgery should include single heart, major communicating hearts or major anomalies. [7]

Goals of the anaesthesia care are to pay meticu­lous attention to detail, monitoring, and vigilance, plan­ning for the postoperative care in the intensive care unit (ICU), by a dedicated team of anaesthesiologists and intensivists for each child with duplication of all moni­toring and equipment in one operating room. [8]

Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics are in­consistent in various types of twins. Usually there is more cross-circulation in the thoracopagus and cran­iopagus twins [9] than in other types, and therefore one can expect altered and unpredictable drug responses. [10] Estimation ofcirculatory mixing is useful to help calcu­late drug dosage and fluid replacement during surgery. [11] Drugs administered to one twin may have unexpected effects on the other, especially for i.v. administration when circulatory admixing is present. [12] Recommended i.v. doses ofanaesthetic agents for the combined body weight ofthe twins are usually halved and then divided into two equal doses to be administered to each twin. Reduced incremental doses are titrated against response and help minimize the dangers of

compounding drug effects in one twin. [13]

The routine evaluation ofcross circulation is per­formed using many methods like Tc-99m microcolloidal human serum albumin (HSA), Tc-99m HIDA, [14] injec­tion olindigo carmine and the examination of its excre­tion in urine ofthe other twin.

However, if surgery for separation is planned, careful angiographic or radio isotopic imaging ofthe cross-circulation is necessary for estimation ofthe car­diac output percentage which is exchanged, as one of the twins might be dependent on the other's circulation for survival. [15] It should also be recognized that the de­gree ofcross-circulation is dynamic, highly dependent on both twins' relative systemic vascular resistance.

Szmuk P, Rabb MF, Curry B described the first use othispectral index monitor for detection ofcross­circulation in conjoint tNN ins. [16] In conjoint twins, syn­chronous ventilation is necessary to improve quality and decrease the time ofthe study. [16] These authors decided to use the Carlens (Y) adaptor to achieve synchronous ventilation. interestingly, the twins had different values of end-tidal carbon dioxide during the first hour and during the MRI scan (4-6 h), which equalized towards the end ofanaesthesia. Authors believe that one reason for this disparity could be the differences in the compli­ance and resistance oil ungs between the twins.

Though new technology advances in radiologic imaging, computer modeling, improved surgical and ana­esthesia techniques enabled improved survival rates, age at operation influences success of Separation. It is suggested that surgery can be best delayed t.mtil such inlants are relatively mature (i.e., 6-12 months ol'age). Opera­tive survival was 50% in those operated on in the neona­tal period, but 90% in those over 4 months of age.

But 29-year-old Iemale Iranian earniopagus twins (Ladan and Laleh Bijani) consented for separation sur­gery, believed to he the first fur adult craniopagus twins at Singapore's Raffles Hospital in 2003. [17],[18] The twins took 50 hours of anaesthesia. Dr.Carson of John Hopkins children's center joined the international ef­forts. It was unsuccessful. The twins died within 90 minutes of each other due to uncontrollable haemorrhage. The operation is more di Iticult in adults than in children whose brains are better able to recover from the surgery. Although Singapore doctors per­lormed a similar operation in 2001 on in I ant Nepalese girls, surgery on adult twins is unprecedented.

In 1987, Benjamin Carson and a 70 member team successfully separated 7 month old Craniopagus boys from Germany. They were sharing superior saggital si­nuses and so circulatory bypass, induced hypothermia and deliberate cardiac arrest was used to have better cerebral protection. [19]

Theodore G Wong et al of Singapore general hos­pital reported anaesthetic management and planning of the 5-day separation of 11-month-old craniopagus twins. The report emphasizes the importance ofteam­work, communication, and advanced planning required in twin separation surgeries that are rarely perlormed and have a long operating time. [20]

So, conjoined twins remain a topic ofscientific speculation, public interest, and an image of two minds in the same body. Conjoined twins are increasingly ac­cepted into our everyday lives as we grow to under­stand their unusual physical and emotional bonds and learn more about the science behind their development.

   References Top

1.Hansen J. Incidence of conjoined twins. Lancet l975; 306:1257.  Back to cited text no. 1      
2.Potter EL. Pathology of the fetus and the newborn. Chi­cago: Yearbook Medical Publishing; 1952. p. 172-98  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.Willis RA. The border land of embryology and pathol­ogy. 2nd edn. London: BUtterworth's; 1962. p. 135-47.  Back to cited text no. 3      
4.Beckwith JB. Conjoined twins: developmental malfor­mations and clinical implications. Pediatr Dev Pathol 2003; 6: 361-4.  Back to cited text no. 4      
5.James L Stone, James T Goodrich. The cranlopagus malformation: classification and implications for surgical separation. Brain 2006; 129: 1084-1095.  Back to cited text no. 5      
6.David B Waisel. Moral permissibility as a guide for de­cision making about COI1joined txvins. Anesth Analg 2005:101:41-43.  Back to cited text no. 6      
7.James O' Neill. JR. et al .Surgical experience with thir­teen conjo111Cd twins. Ann Surg 1988:299-3 10.  Back to cited text no. 7      
8.LeelaI Ukrom R. Somboonviboon W, BLInburaphong P, Kiatkungwanklai P. Anaesthetic experiences in three sets of conjoined twins in King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital. Paediatr Anaesth 2004; 14: 176-83.  Back to cited text no. 8      
9.Shank E. Manohar N, Schmidt U. Anesthetic manage­ment for thoracopagus twins with complex cyanotic heart disease in the magnetic resonance imaging suite. Anesth Analg 2005: 100: 361-4.  Back to cited text no. 9      
10.Jenny M. Thomas Anaesthesia for conjoined twins. Childs Ner y Svst 2004;20:538-546.  Back to cited text no. 10      
11.Mark Grecnberg.David D. Frankville, Mary Hilfikcr. Sepa­ration of omphalopagus conjoined twins L1s111g Corn­bined caudal epidural - general anesthesia .Canadian Journal ofAnaesthesia 2001 48:478-482.  Back to cited text no. 11      
12.Oak SN. JoshiRM, Sandesh Parelkarl, Satish Kumar KV.Successful separation of Xipho-OmphalopagLls twins.Journal of Indian Association of Pediatric Sur- geons.2007:12:218-220.  Back to cited text no. 12      
13.Thomas. IM. Lopez JT. Conjoined twins - the anesthetic management of 15 sets from 1991-2002. PaediatrAnaesth 2004;14:117-29.  Back to cited text no. 13      
14.Kingston CA, McHugh K. Kumaradevan J, Kiely EM. Spitz L. Imaging in the preoperative assessment of con- . joined twins.Radiovraphics 2001; 21: 1187-208.  Back to cited text no. 14      
15.Constant I. BIS use in pediatric anesthesia: where are we? Can J Anaesth 2004: 51: 411-16  Back to cited text no. 15      
16.Szmuk P. Rabb MF, Curry B. Anaesthetic management of thoracopagus twins with complex cyanotic heart dis­ease for cardiac assessment: special considerations re­lated to ventilation and cross-circulation. British JOLIr­nal ofAnaesthesia 2006; 96:341-345.  Back to cited text no. 16      
17.Birmole B. Kulkarni B. Shah R. et al. Xipho­omphalopagous twins-separation in the newborn. .J Postgrad Mcd 1993;39: 99-101.  Back to cited text no. 17      
18.CNN: The deaths of two conjoined Iranian twins following unprecedented surgery to separate them have prompted an outpouring of grief around the world. Tuesday, July 8,2003, Posted: 10:48 PM EDT (0248 GMT).  Back to cited text no. 18      
19. http://www.hopkinsmedicinc.org/press/2003/JUNE/ 030612.HTM  Back to cited text no. 19      
20.Theodore G Wong.Biauw-Chi On2,Huei-Long Chee. Anesthetic management for a live-day separation of craniopagus twins.AnesthAnalg 2003; 97:999-1002.  Back to cited text no. 20      


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]


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