The First Ever Surgery To Separate Conjoined Twins

 | Grace Higgins

For hours, month after month, a team of over seventy nurses and physicians rehearsed a delicate surgery: separating two conjoined twins. They had been prepping the two tiny bodies for several days, two twins perilously joined at the head. And when it came to the famous day in 1987 where the final cut was going to be made, separating the large vein that connected the babies: Benjamin Solomon Carson the young neurosurgeon who had overseen the whole operation, offered his scalpel to his boss.

It was a course a sign of respect, but Donlin Long the head of neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital did not take up the gesture, he had already decided that it should be Carson to make that crucial and final cut.

Long once said that part of him thought he should take the scalpel, in case things went bad, this sort of operation could ruin the young doctor Carson’s career but at the same time he knew that if everything went well then this would enhance Carson’s reputation and young doctors around the world would grow up trying to emulate him. And indeed the separation of the Binder twins did launch Ben Carson into the realm of stardom.

The 35-year-old walked out of the operation room that day into a starlight that never ended, press coverage and conferences followed him worldwide. And this even brought to life more medical achievements in his life, even publishing deals and a career as a motivational speaker.

Conjoined twins occur about one out of every 200,000 births and almost 60 percent of them die before birth. And to make matters worse over 35% do not even survive one day. And then you factor in that out of all the conjoined twins ever born, only 2% are conjoined at the head. This means surgeons have relatively zero practice on separating them.

The Binder twins were luckily in the sense they had two brains and therefore the surgery was feasible, still, it took seven anesthesiologists, five neurosurgeons, two cardiac surgeons, and five plastic surgeons to pull it off. Not to mention all the nurses and technicians that were required also to make the operation a success.