Former conjoined twins, Uwenzile and Uyihlelile Shilongonyane, have recovered to such an extent, following their separation procedure at Netcare Unitas Hospital, that they have been officially discharged and will travel back to Swaziland with their parents on Thursday.
“These very special twin girls made such good progress that they were transferred from the paediatric intensive care unit into the paediatric ward over the weekend, and we are delighted to share the good news that they will be going home shortly,” says Robert Jordaan, general manager of the hospital.
On 2 January 2017, Uwenzile and Uyihlelile were born prematurely at 36 weeks as conjoined twins via caesarean section at the Good Shepherd Hospital in Siteki, Swaziland, to parents Bongekile Simelane and Mbongeni Sihlongonyane. At birth they had a combined weight of 4.21kg.
The twins were joined at the lower abdomen and did not share any organs. These types of conjoined twins are known as omphalopagus twins. Uwenzile and Uyihlelile were admitted to Netcare Unitas Hospital through the Swaziland Government’s Phalala Fund on 15 January, a few days ahead of the delicate procedure to separate them.
A team of eight doctors and a theatre team of 11 nursing professionals, most of them women, successfully completed the six-hour operation on 21 January. Paediatric surgeons, Dr Mariza de Villiers and Dr Paul Stevens, led the surgical team, while anaesthetists, Dr Henrika Rossouw, Dr Sandra Spijkerman, Dr Marleen Odendaal and Dr Jeanri Smith, faced a significant challenge because the conjoined twins were facing each other, making the delicate task of intubating the little babies more complicated than usual.
Dr Marleen Engelbrecht, the paediatrician responsible for the twins care at the hospital after the surgery, says that the babies were initially cared for in the paediatric intensive care unit, headed by unit manager, Sister Irene Buitendache. The twins made a rapid recovery, although they needed to be kept on ventilators and were closely monitored in the days following their surgery.
Jordaan says that on 2 February, mother Bongekile’s 20th birthday, the hospital held a special celebration for her and the twins. “The highlight of the day was that the twins had by this point recovered sufficiently for their mother to hold them for the first time since their separation.”
Uyihlelile oblivious to the fuss around her in her father's arms Netcare Unitas Hospital
Uwenzile sleeping peacefully in her mother's, Bongekile Simelane, arms at Netcare Unitas Hospital
Bongekile, speaking through a translator, has expressed her gratitude for the many people and various organisations that were involved in separating Uwenzile and Uyihlelile, including the Swaziland government, Healthshare Health Solutions, which administers the fund for the Swaziland Ministry of Health, and the medical and nursing teams at Netcare Unitas Hospital. “I was crying before the separation operation, but now I am fine. I am glad that my children are alive. Thank you for everything,” she said.
She had a special word for enrolled nurse Sr Portia Mabuela, who offered her support throughout the twins’ stay at Netcare Unitas Hospital, and with whom she formed a special bond: “Thank you Sister Portia for being there for me in the hard situations.” Sr Mabuela, who speaks isiZulu, was able to understand enough of Bongekile’s mother tongue, siSwati, to communicate with her and offer the young mother reassurance.
Jordaan says Uwenzile, Uyihlelile and their parents had earned a special place in the hearts of the hospital staff and doctors involved in the twins’ care. “Netcare Unitas Hospital has been deeply privileged to play a part in helping these beautiful, bright little girls to a happy, healthy future.
“This has been a significant milestone in the hospital’s history, as the first separation of conjoined twins undertaken at Netcare Unitas Hospital,” Jordaan concluded.
Short video of Bongekile
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Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Unitas Hospital
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville, or Pieter Rossouw
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