The Parents of Siamese Twins Find Hope Half a World Away

updated 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Burma Railway engineer Nyi Htut had been warned to expect twins when his pregnant wife entered a Mandalay hospital in February 1982. But neither he nor his wife, Tin Tin Myint, was prepared for babies quite like Win and Lin. The infants, born by cesarean section, were joined from the diaphragm to the pelvis and shared a liver, bladder, intestines, a single set of male genitals, two fully formed legs and one vestigial leg. Siamese twins appear once in every 50,000 or so deliveries—the result of the mother's egg failing to divide fully following conception—but most die at or before birth. Win and Lin survived, however, and were transferred days later to Rangoon Children's Hospital, 450 miles from the couple's home. For the next five months Myint was denied full details of their birth by her distraught husband and was kept locked in the family home lest she see an account in Bur-man newspapers.

In April 1983 the twins were visited by Dr. Alan W. Conn of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, during a tour of Burma. He suggested they be brought to Canada for the especially complex surgery their case required. With financial help from KLM airlines, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Herbie Fund, a Toronto philanthropic organization, that feat was accomplished, and on July 28 Dr. Robert Filler and a 43-member medical team separated the children in a 1714-hour operation. Lin retained the male genitals, a vagina was constructed for Win and the organs they shared were divided.

The parents, who had a normal baby earlier this year, stayed in Burma during the operation but were brought to Toronto in September at the expense of the city's Sutton Place Hotel. Although their stay was relatively brief (they returned to Burma on Nov. 1), it enabled them to form bonds that will continue to develop once the twins return home sometime next year. Before their departure, correspondent Cable Neuhaus talked with Htut (his English is spotty, his wife's nonexistent) about their experience.

What happened when your wife went into labor?

At 10:30 in the morning she went into operation theater, and my family and I wait outside. At 11:00 the nurse call to me. Usually, they didn't call the husband into the operation theater, so I was really upset. I think my wife has died on the table.

What did the doctors tell you?

They told me your wife has no problems but you have some special children. There are only three legs, but two heads and four hands. They didn't show me at that time. They told me these kinds of childrens will die in a few minutes. But after 15 minutes they called me again, and this time they show the children, and the doctors said they can live and they send them to the special-care unit. My wife was still asleep from the anesthetic, so she didn't know what was happening.

How did the children look to you?

Very strong and healthy and they are fat enough. They weighed 11 pounds, 4 ounces combined. They are crying, with the tiny little four hands and these two legs. They have hair, and they have also nails. They are fighting each other, and the nails cause scratches. The nurses put gloves on their hands. I cried when I saw them. I feel sorry for them and I don't think they would separate.

What happened when your wife awoke?

She asked for the baby. She thought she has one child, a boy. I tell her he was overweight and he is put in the neonatal unit. It is the truth. It is overweight. We told her if she can walk she can see the children, but as she had cesarean birth, she was told to wait several days. So she was satisfied. Then when the children were six days old they were moved to Rangoon.

At what point was your wife told about the children's condition?

Nine days after the birth, when my wife is due to go back to our house, I told her these are twins and that they are conjoined, but only in the chest, not very much. You had not to worry about it, it is only skin. At that time our news are in the paper and we have to put away from her all the newspapers.

How often did you visit the children?

Every month. I tell my wife I have meeting in the head office of Burma Rail, which is in Rangoon. I had to lie. Burmese women are very sensitive, and she have a big wound in her stomach, so we really worried about her.

How were you able to continue hiding the truth?

I lock her in the house, because everybody who lives near our house knew about this. It was in the newspaper. But at this time there is no television in Mandalay.

Didn't your wife insist upon seeing the children?

Sometimes she suddenly ask me, "Where are my children? I want to go to Rangoon." These days are the hard days for us. We are quarreling each other. After two or three month she slowly believe the childrens are not in Rangoon but were already died.

When did your wife finally learn the truth?

After five months. First I show the photographs of the children, but only from the upper side so not so ugly. She was very sad. Then a month later we go to Rangoon. She was really upset and shock to see the children. We stay only two day, then I brought my wife to her parents, because I cannot do nothing to feeling her well again. She was crying day by day.

Did you or your wife blame each other?

No, not at all. According to our religion, Buddhism, it can happen, and there is even worse things—like children whose brains is not very good. We try to put in our mind is some good things in our children.

How did Buddhism help explain your children being born Siamese twins?

Buddhism says if you do some bad things in your past life, this can happen in present life. This punishment is a little bit for us, but for the children it is much more. Since each one is missing a leg, in previous life maybe they did something to cause someone to lose the leg.

When you got the offer from Dr. Conn, did you have any reservations about going through with the operation?

No, we agreed all the time because we don't want to see them conjoined together. It is a hard life. It is very hot in Burma and they live under fan always. And when one want to stand up the other fall down. The hands are also confused with each other. They have no independence. We are feeling sorry every time we saw them

Did you and your wife discuss the possibility of the children dying?

Yes, because we saw only one sex organ, we think that is likely to make the death sentence to at least one. So when we agreed to make the operation, we decided to have another child. At least we should have one child.

Why didn't you and your wife accompany the twins to Canada?

Because I am in government service, I should be at work. Also, the children needs a nurse and doctor. My brother is a doctor and we spare a nurse from Rangoon to go along.

Did you have a say as to how the children would be separated?

As I cannot accompany with them, and it is very difficult to contact with us, I give all rights to Dr. Conn and guardianship to my brother, but I tell him that, if possible, we want at least one boy. Lin was most likely boy. Win wants always clean dresses and to comb her hair properly.

Do the twins have a good relationship?

It is hard to say that. You cannot put together Lin and Win. They start to fight. I think they are afraid to be joined together again.

Are the children expected to lead normal lives?

I hope. Doctors expect with artificial legs, children can walk without a stick. Lin will be able to have children, but Win cannot. It feels not very good, but we can accept it.

You have never lived with Lin and Win. How does that affect your feelings for them?

We can say the truth. We love more the daughter we left in Burma, because after eight month we live together, we are in touch. But now there's some ties between Lin and Win and us and when they come home, we will grow to love all the children equally.

How has this ordeal changed you and your wife?

My wife has struggled more and know life more than me. My father is an officer so I got everything what I want, and when I want to be a father, my wife has a pregnant. But when I got the babies, this is something different. It is this kinds of events that make me a little bit mature. Before I thought I would get what I want in my life, but I was wrong. You cannot control life.

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