Image caption, The twins to be separated in ~ Birmingham Children's Hospital in a ground-breaking operation
In December 2001, a perilous procedure took location in Birmingham to separate three-month-old conjoined twins, Sanchia and also Eman Mowatt. They started life in the full emphasis of the world's media, such was the rarity of your predicament. What are the 19-year-old sisters who defied the clinical odds doing today?

There was, medics said, a "slight judder" felt in the operation theatre, and also a cheer erupted in the room. At the finish of the painstaking 16-hour procedure, the two small girls to be separated. They had actually spent their very first three month attached in ~ the spine.

It to be a exceptional day at Birmingham Children's Hospital - the first time together an operation had been lugged out in the UK, and also only the 3rd time in the world.

It was likewise extremely high risk - the survival price for be separated conjoined pair is between 5 and 25%. Also if they had come v the surgery, one or both of the girls could have to be paralysed as neurosurgeons scrupulous separated your spines.

But, joyously, the procedure was a complete success. Sanchia and also Eman's elated and also relieved parents Emma and David can finally hold one daughter each. The world's media recorded the family's very first individual cuddles.

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Image source, PA Media
Image caption, Emma and also David Mowatt v their daughters Sanchia and Eman quickly after the operation to separate them

Sanchia and Eman are currently at university, along with their younger sister Damaris who was born simply 11 month after the twins and also has to be alongside them throughout their particularly - and also yet determinedly plain - lives.

"People don't really talk about their conjoined stories, but it's simply what we're supplied to," states Eman, mirroring on their entry right into the world.

Doctors suspect the sisters could lead normal stays if lock were efficiently separated. Both have actually spina bifida but, v one weak foot each, it was no known how this would affect their development.

"They didn't know if we were going come walk," states Sanchia. "When we did, people said it was a miracle."

Image source, PA Media

It to be Sanchia who an initial defied expectations, toddling turn off at the age of two, with Eman following around five weeks later. Prior to long, they to be running around the family home in the Birmingham suburb of an excellent Barr.

Early life to be a mix of main school, return trips come hospital and also the weird TV appearance to discuss their progress.

"We knew in ~ a young period we were various - hospital appointments, operations, and also we couldn't do every little thing our friends to be doing," recalls Eman, back she claims their young classmates to be "very accepting" of their situation, and they gain friendships that have actually remained to this day.

Image source, Emma Mowatt

They say their weaker leg way a five-minute walk can take them 20, and also they have actually the usage of a wheelchair and also a crutch.

"We taken on our impairment at a young age," says Sanchia. "We didn't allow anyone tell united state we couldn't execute something."

"I remember being 4 years old and feeling different," she says. "We were playing tig and also tag and also a boy said to me 'you can't perform this since of her leg'.

" 'yes, I have actually a disability but it's no for who to tell friend what friend can and can't do'. I did run that day, and also I wasn't the best but ns did it.

"When someone says something like that come you, it offers you the journey to think 'yes ns can!''"


Image source, Birmingham Children's Hospital
Image caption, Scans proved the an obstacle facing surgeons - the twins were fused at the base of spine

The procedure Sanchia and Eman required to division their spinal cords, which to be fused in ~ the base, had never been lugged out in the UK.

Medics led by neurosurgeon Tony Hockley apportioned the spinal cord and also separated some major organs, consisting of their bladders.

Describing the procedure afterwards, mr Hockley said The Guardian: "The 2 came together and fused as one. There was likewise a degree of rotation. We had actually to do our reduced so the each infant girl gained her spinal cord back, and also make a pipe to cover it.

"The method of cut is conventional yet it is discovering where come cut. We had nerve stimulators come help."

After the separation the the spine, paediatric surgeon Peter Gornall and also one that the world's leading experts on conjoined twins, Lewis Spitz from an excellent Ormond Street, brought out the cautious splitting of few of the girls' organs, which were whole yet were stuck together.

In your teens, the pair were an ext guarded about their history, but intrigue regularly got the much better of your classmates.

"People were an extremely curious - they'd asking us, is it true? but we want to keep that private," claims Sanchia. "They googled us. I thought human being would prevent talking - it's just a craze - but they didn't."

The commonly respected neurosurgeon that separated the twins, Tony Hockley, came to be a close family members friend.

He psychic every birthday, and was a consistent visitor to the Mowatts' home. He died suddenly in 2009, aged 65, and also last year the twins attended a memorial event, to the delight of his family and also colleagues.

Image caption, The twins loved working at Birmingham Children's Hospital, where surgeons be separated them as babies

The link with Birmingham Children's Hospital sustained as Sanchia and Eman approached adulthood. So lot so, castle both completed job-related experience there, meeting several of the medics that were in the operation room v them some 16 years earlier.

It was yes, really cool," states Sanchia. "We witnessed the anaesthetist who did the gas for us, and also medical students that were there once we to be born.

Their high college experience to be cut short due come the coronavirus pandemic, through their school required to close in March. "It was ripped away from us," states Sanchia. "We are still trying to gain over that."

Undeterred, the twins and their sister Damaris - who were in the very same school year - organized a virtual prom through close friend via Zoom. They also made flyers and tickets.

"It was an exceptional day," claims Eman. "That's the way we closed off our institution years, dancing roughly the life room."

The event was a to mark of lockdown. "April to be bleak," recalls Eman, adding that they shed a close loved one to Covid-19.

"It to be intense. However quarantine has actually told united state to appreciate each various other - it's brought out the finest in us."

The pandemic has lugged the 3 sisters even closer, if that was possible. The pair are full of prayer for Damaris.

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"She is our driving force," claims Sanchia, explaining the their sister has actually supported them countless times after ~ operations, or as soon as they are having actually a daunting day.