The Siamese twins born in Bayelsa State need help to lead normal lives. As MIKE ODIEGWU reports, the Federal Medical Centre, Yola will separate them.
Raphael Ayebaenaemi, who hails from Nembe, Nembe Local Government Area, had a sweet painful experience on December 12 last year. His 24-year-old wife, Ebiyefa, was delivered of twins at about 11 am. They were, however, not normal twins and their birth was also through an unnatural means.
Through a surgical procedure, commonly known as a caesarean operation, Ebiyefa gave birth to Siamese twins, perhaps, the first-ever conjoined twins in Niger Delta and Bayelsa State. They were glued in their abdomen. The combined weight of the babies, first children of the family, was 5.8kg at birth. The Nembe General Hospital built and equipped by an oil company conducted the surgery that led to the birth of the twins.
Ayebaenaemi received the news with mixed feelings. He is a commercial motorcyclist based in Nembe. He could barely feed his family much less foot the bills for such surgical procedure. While he was still confused in thought, Ayebaenaemi received his first help.
The story of the unusual birth saturated the Nembe community and got the attention of Gabriel Jonah, a popular political and youth leader in the community. Jonah, who is the younger brother to the Bayelsa Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd), is the founder of the Otita Force, a notable youth movement in the area.
The father of the conjoined twins leaped in joy when Jonah accepted to offset the Nembe hospital bills. He further volunteered to lead the financial process that would ensure the separation of the children.
The next day, through assistance from Jonah, the twins and their ailing mother were transferred to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Yenagoa for further medical attention and treatments.
When they got to the FMC at about 5pm on December 13, Ayebaenaemi wanted all medical procedures for the separation of his twins to begin immediately. He wanted to know the financial implications of the procedure. He was also worried about where the money would come from.
He said: “I have no money, not even a dime. I am happy that my wife gave birth to twins but when I discovered that the twins were conjoined and they were born through a Caesarean operation, my heart skipped.
“But a youth leader, Gabriel Jonah, from our community came to my aid. He paid the money for all the hospital bills at Nembe and even gave us money to take the twins to FMC Yenagoa.
“We came to FMC on Friday, a day after the birth of the twins. The hospital placed them on drips and said they would carry out some tests. Nothing has been said about the surgery to separate them.
“We want the hospital to be fast about the whole thing so that the twins can get their freedom. We thank Jonah for coming to our aid and for volunteering to assist us more. But we are appealing to all our leaders and non-governmental organisations to intervene and help us to get through this.”
The FMC management said it showed a lot of commitment immediately the twins and their mother were brought to the hospital. First, the hospital placed all its experts, consultants and doctors on the matter.
The Head Clinical Services, FMC, Dr. James Enimi Omietimi, said the hospital ensured that the twins were in stable conditions throughout the period. Omietimi, who is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, added that a Siamese case requires proper planning and assemblage of a team of experts.
Explaining the situation, he said: “The children are stable as we speak. Our doctors and our consultant paediatrician, a professor of paediatrics, Prof. Kunle Olowu, has gone to look at the children. Even our consultant surgeon is working on the case.
“They are joined at the abdominal level. It is possible they are sharing intra-abdominal organ. This is not the kind of surgery that people jump in and start operating.
“The surgery is usually planned. It takes planning and a team of doctors and nurses are assembled to carry out this kind of surgery. So, it is not something to rush and start doing.
“It is not likely that we are going to do this surgery here in FMC because of the amount of expertise involved in planning and doing the surgery. We need government, NGOs and people who have experience locally and internationally to come into the matter, it is also capital intensive.
“Our basic problem right now is to ensure that the children are stable medically before we do anything. If it is something we can handle in our facilities and we need people to join us to handle it we will invite people to do it. If it is something that we need to refer to another facility whether in Nigeria or outside the country, we will do that too.”
Reports on the twins attracted the attention of the Federal Government. Omietimi explained what happened later. He said the FMC ensured the stability of the children and also treated their mother of advanced High Blood Pressure. He said the hospital rendered all its services free to the children and their mother, adding that the special ward where their mother was admitted cost N11,000 per day.
He said the hospital contacted its sister hospital in Yola, where a similar case of separation was handled last year. Omietimi said the requested that the Yola FMC should send its experts to Yenagoa to coordinate the separation surgery.
Omietimi said: “They stayed with us from the 14th of December 2019 to January 2 this year when we referred them. Within that period, we looked after them in our special care baby unit. We also looked after the mother in our private ward because she was having elevated blood pressure. That ward cost N11000 daily.
“We waived her bill. We also waved the bills for the children that were in the special care baby units where our specialists looked after them for that period. We reached out to FMC Yola that separated a set last year. We invited them to come to our hospital so that the surgery will be done here so that our paediatricians and our people will share in the experience.
“We were willing to buy equipment needed for all that and to accommodate and take care of the specialists that were supposed to come and join us. But the people in Yola said since we had not done it before, it was better to refer them to Yola. And the parents of the twins and the Nembe community involved in the issue wanted the surgery to be done as soon as possible.
“We explained to them that no matter where they go, the surgery will not be done when the children are less than three months. They still mounted pressure for us to do the operation immediately. We had no choice after discussing with Yola, especially when they offered to do everything free of charge. They also said that our people can join them over there for the surgery.”
Omietimi said the FMC Yenagoa coordinated all the activities to move the twins and their mother to Yola. He further said the Nigerian Air Force got involved and volunteered to fly them to Yola. He said initially Jonah wanted to pay for a private aircraft that would take them to Yola. According to him, the hospital refunded Jonah his money when the Air Force undertook the task.
He said: “We coordinated all that exercise and the Nigerian Air Force, which heard about it agreed to fly them free of charge. So, apart from referring them, we coordinated the movement. They brought their helicopter to fly them to Port Harcourt Airport.
“We moved them in our ambulance with all our medical experts to Igbogene helipad where they were moved to the Port Harcourt Airport. Another Nigerian Air Force plane moved them and our medical experts to Yola where we physically handed over the patients to them at FMC.
“We had discussions there and agreed that a month to the surgery, our team will go back there and join in the preparations for the surgery. They have not picked a date yet because just as we told all the stakeholders, the FMC in Yola also informed them that the surgery will not be done until the children are about four months.”
Ayebaenaemi thanked the Federal Government and other stakeholders, including Jonah and the FMC, for their prompt interventions. He said the twins were still under observations in Yola as part of the preparations for surgery.
He said though all the medical expenses were being taken care of by the hospital, he was the one bearing all the feeding expenses. He said he had run out of cash and could no longer cope with the feeding.
He said: “I don’t know what I would have done without the interventions of the Federal Government, Jonah and the FMC. I have been jobless and have been managing my family as a commercial motorcyclist.
“In Yola here, they are taking care of all the medical expenses. I am taking care of their feeding. But I don’t have money again because things are costly here. I am still soliciting the help of other spirited and philanthropic Nigerians. I am calling on the Minister of Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, to support me”