The twins born to Mr. Obinna Ugwoke and Mrs. Amarachi Ugwoke on May 8, 2017 at First Covenant Hospital, Abule-Ado in Satellite Town, Lagos, were joined at the stomach. The couple could not afford the millions of naira that was needed for the surgery.
Rev. Fr. Vincent Ezezue, the parish priest at Saints Michael, Raphael and Gabriel Catholic Church (Archangels’ Parish) in Satellite Town, where the Ugwoke family worships, launched a campaign in October 2017 to raise funds for the surgery and in November, the twins underwent a successful surgery at Narayana-Health-Mazundar Shaw Medical Centre, Bangalore, India. It’s now eleven months since the conjoined twins were successfully separated.
It was drizzling on Wednesday morning when BDSUNDAY visited the Ugwokes at their home in Satellite Town to know how the twins were doing. The sitting room of their apartment was upside down and one of the twins was busy rearranging the things while the other was nowhere in sight.
“They are hyperactive. You can see how they have scattered the room,” said Amarachi Ugwoke, the twins’ mother. “This is John, James is asleep.”
She explained that the twins usually got up about 4am when their elder brother and sister get up to prepare for school.
“They [the older children] leave with the school bus at 6am. When they are getting ready for school, the sound would wake the twins up. They retire to bed after the elder ones leave for school,” she said.
Obinna Ugwoke, the twins’ father, a spare parts dealer at ASPMDA market, located at the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex along Lagos-Badagry Expressway, told BDSUNDAY that the previous year was a challenging one for the family.
Recounting the experience, he said he got married to his wife in 2013 and by 2016, his wife was pregnant for the third time.
“Our first son, Chinonso, is four years old while our daughter, Mmesoma, is three years old,” he said.
While his wife was pregnant with the twins, Mr. Ugwoke said she underwent four scans at Dunamis Diagnostic Centre and three at Rovina Medical Diagnostics, both within Satellite Town.
“At Dunamis, they were not sure if the twins were conjoined or not. So, they referred us to one scan centre at Abule Egba, which they said was the best in scan services. We got to the hospital and after the scan, we were told that the babies were separate and not conjoined. They even showed us the scan result,” Mr. Ugwoke narrated.
At this point, the second twin, James, emerged from the bedroom and went on to assist his brother John who had been rearranging the sitting room all alone.
When the residue of sleep had cleared from his eyes, James noticed a stranger in the room (this writer) and stood staring for all the time the stranger was in the house. Unlike John who was playful and giggled at any slightest opportunity, James was observant and did not warm up to people easily.
With so much seriousness displayed on his face, John hurried to the kitchen and pushed a 25-litre container full of water. A sizeable quantity of water poured on the floor and he began to clean it with his bare hands prompting their mother, who sat listening to her husband’s narration, to rush to the kitchen.
Mr. Ugwoke narrated that with what appeared to be good news from the scan centres they had visited at that time, the couple began making preparations for the arrival of the twins.
On Thursday, May 4, 2017, his wife went into labour and was taken to First Covenant Hospital, but they were asked to come back as it was not yet time. Three days later, on Sunday, they were back in the hospital.
“I told my sister-in-law to sleep at the hospital while I go home to take care of the children. I don’t like staying in the hospital while my wife is about giving birth. When my wife gave birth to our first two children, I just got a call from the hospital that my wife put to bed safely. So, I was expecting the hospital to call me this time,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
When the waiting became too long, he got very worried. The next morning, he got to the hospital and met his sister-in-law in tears. He asked what the problem was and was told that his wife had to undergo a caesarean section.
“I went in to see the doctor and caught a glimpse of my wife. Her private part and everything was outside and she was almost dying. Confused and worried, I signed for the surgery to be done after which I excused myself to go and look for money for the cesarean operation,” he said as he cuddled one of the twins.
On her part, Mrs. Ugwoke, who had her first two children through normal delivery, said the experience was a harrowing one.
“I went into labour around 8pm on Sunday. Between 9pm and 10pm, the head of one of the babies was seen. I got on the delivery bed and nurses started pulling the baby. I kept pushing till 6.30am the following day. The doctor said the nurses took a big risk because I was not supposed to push for more than four hours since they knew I had twins,” she narrated.
She said when her husband got back to the hospital and asked after his wife, the nurses told him that she had put to bed.
“The nurses told me the doctor who carried out the surgery said my wife and twins were fine and I could see them if I wanted to. I was about going inside the theatre when the doctor told me the twins were conjoined. I was confused and asked to see them,” Mr. Ugwoke recalled.
Separated conjoined twins with parents 11 months after surgery.
When he got inside the theatre and set his eyes on the conjoined twins, his heart skipped a beat.
“I did not know where to start from. I was out trying to get money for the caesarean section without knowing that the biggest surprise was on the way. But the doctor tried to convince me that separating conjoined twins was a small deal. He said he would consult the people that would help us and confirm appointment,” he narrated.
The doctor, identified simply as Dr. Enabulele, referred them to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, where he said the twins could be separated.
“We immunized the babies but the doctor said they could not be circumcised yet because of their condition. When the babies were 10 days old, we went to LUTH. Everyone was surprised and that moment and they attended to us very well,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
“At LUTH, they tried to educate me that separating conjoined twins was not the kind of surgery that could be done immediately. We were told to wait for the babies to grow a bit so they would be able to bear the pain. The hospital said they would do the surgery when the babies were a month old,” he told BDSUNDAY.
The conjoined twins and their mother were given a place to stay at LUTH pending the time the surgery would be done.
“They kept me and the twins where they keep dead children. Anytime they kept a dead child close to us, I would gently carry my babies and go outside. It was not easy at all,” Mrs. Ugwoke recalled.
After staying in the hospital for more than a month, Mr. Ugwoke reminded Dr. Ladipo Ajayi, one of the doctors at LUTH, that they said the surgery would be carried out in a month’s time, but he was told they had to wait for a while longer.
“When the surgery was not done after three months, my wife was worried. She said that was not the initial arrangement and asked that I meet with the doctors to know what the real problem was. The doctors said we should exercise some patience, that they would separate the conjoined twins. In fact, they said that time that the CMD (chief medical director) was not around,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
After disturbing the doctors at LUTH over separation, Mr. and Mrs. Ugwoke were told to go for a CT scan at a particular place in Surulere because the CT scan machine at LUTH wasn’t functional.
“We went there around 7am and stayed there till almost 6pm because it was difficult to get the twins’ vein. When they got the vein and entered the test, it failed. The first two times failed but the third sample which was collected around 6.30pm was successful. We paid N75,000 for the test,” he said.
The result of the test showed that the twins were conjoined at the liver and both the portal and hepatic veins were joined together.
“The doctor told us that case had got to another level since the twins were sharing vital organs. We were told that they shared the same vein that conveys blood from the liver to the heart and that if it’s tampered with, the children might die,” he said.
Before then, Mr. Ugwoke said the doctors usually came around every Monday to check on the twins and ensure that their temperature was stable, but after a while, they stopped doing so.
At that point, the couple decided to see the CMD at LUTH to know what their fate was.
“I called one of the doctors to know what was happening. I told him that if they at LUTH could not separate the twins, they should write a medical report for me so I can go out on the streets and ask people to help me. Without a medical report, people wouldn’t believe me.
“I explained to the doctor on phone that showing people the medical report would authenticate my story and enable people assist me. But she said she could not write a medical report without the CMD giving her the go-ahead. I told her I needed to see the CMD and she agreed and hung up,” he said.
When the couple met with the CMD, they were told to be patient as the hospital had ordered for the machine which would be used to separate the twins. The moment the CMD mentioned the worth of the machine, Mr. Ugwoke said he became very worried.
Recalling a discussion he had had with one of the doctors before going to meet the CMD, he said, “The doctor told us the machine they ordered to be used for the separation was worth N5 million. Now, the CMD was telling us that the machine was worth slightly above N1 million. I tapped my wife when he said so.
“At that point, I knew the doctors were not sincere. As an Igbo man, I’m always very alert. I told my wife I had to go out and look for assistance outside because I didn’t understand the way they were handling the situation at LUTH anymore.”
The couple got the phone number of the next-in-command to the CMD and they were invited for a meeting which had the CMD and chief surgeons in attendance.
“At the meeting, I told them I wouldn’t let them touch my babies because I observed they were not serious. I could see that they were insisting on carrying out the surgery in the hospital just to make name and money for the hospital and they did not care about the children’s survival. By this time, the twins were five months old and the hospital was still foot-dragging.
“I asked the CMD if the hospital had successfully separated conjoined twins before. I told them if they had done so, I would like to see the picture before I could allow them touch my twins. We were told that a set of conjoined twins was brought to LUTH sometime in the past. The two were alive but one died at a point and they decided to cut the dead one off. I told them that that wasn’t what I asked,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
Convinced that the hospital could not separate conjoined twins successfully, he requested for assistance which the hospital declined.
“I asked them to assist me with the name of a hospital abroad where the twins could be separated successfully and what it would cost to have them separated. I also pleaded with them to assist me by calling on the government and Ministry of Health so they could come to our aid because I learnt that separating conjoined twins was not something one person could handle,” he said.
“By then, the children were almost six months old. The doctors refused to assist even with a medical report. Before this time, one of the doctors at LUTH had told my wife that the hospital did not have the machine to separate the twins, that we should go out and ask people to help us.”
Leaving the hospital that day, Mr. Ugwoke went to his church to meet with a member who was aware of what they had been going through and had assisted them in many ways.
“Mrs. Ubaka visited my wife the day she was delivered of the twins. She bought pampers and so many things for the twins. She told the Reverend Father when the hospital referred us to LUTH and the Reverend Father said if First Covenant was not doing anything, we should take the twins to LUTH,” he recalled.
“After staying in LUTH for about six months, I met Mrs. Ubaka in church and relayed our experience to her. After the meeting, I went back to the hospital and Mrs. Ubaka went straight to our Reverend Father and told him that we had been at LUTH for almost six months without any positive outcome. Thirty minutes after I got back to the hospital, my phone rang. It was Mrs. Ubaka. She said I should come back to church, that our Reverend Father was waiting to see me.”
The following Sunday, Mr. Ugwoke said, it was announced in church and a fundraising campaign was set up to raise money for the surgery abroad.
“The twins’ picture was displayed in church like in a cinema explaining who the parents are and soliciting for assistance for the surgery. So, people started making donations into the church account for surgery. Also, at ASPMDA where I trade, a committee was set up to raise money for the twins and the money realized was paid into the church account,” he said.
With the assistance of Rev. Fr. Vincent Ezezue, Mr. Ugwoke met Mark, a journalist with African Watch who referred him to another journalist at the Guardian Newspaper.
“Mark told me to give the Guardian reporter a picture of the twins and all the details so that they could help me raise funds for the surgery. I did. That same day, Mark helped me draft a letter to the Minister of Health which I took to Lagos State Government House at Alausa. I was told to come back after one week. I did and was told to come back the following week,” he narrated.
After two weeks, Mr. Ugwoke went back to Alausa and this time, with a copy of the Guardian Newspaper where the story of the conjoined twins was published as a proof.
“They told me they had a lot on their table and that they still owed workers’ salaries. So, they could not help us. At least as a Lagosian, I felt they should have been able help us. No amount was too small,” he said in an emotion-laden voice.
“While I was on my way to Alausa on that fateful day, I even bought the Guardian and attached the pictures of the twins to show them that it was not a fraud. They should have helped me.”
To get a rough estimate of how much the surgery would cost since LUTH declined to help, Mr. Ugwoke was directed to a company at Ikeja that specializes in assisting those who want to travel abroad on health grounds for a fee.
“LUTH said they would not give us any letter and that the only option was that we allow them separate the twins when they are one year old. Even then, they said it was 50-50. At a time, one of the doctors told my wife to choose who she loves more between James and John,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
“Through a lady I met in one hospital at 21 Road in Festac Town, I was linked to one Bose who works in a company that specializes in helping those in critical health conditions travel abroad for medical attention. It turned out to be the same place our doctor at First Covenant Hospital told us about. We were given the costs of doing the surgery in three American and Indian hospitals. We opted for Narayana-Health-Mazundar Shaw Medical Centre in India for slightly above N8 million because the price was neither the highest nor the lowest of the prices we were given. Then, the company charged $1,000,” he said.
Three weeks after the church set up the fundraising campaign, Rev. Fr. Ezezue announced in church that the money needed for the surgery was complete and the couple was asked to thank the donors. Still, the church followed up on the visa arrangements and other things.
“We travelled on Friday, November 17, 2017 through Etihad Airways to India and arrived India the following day at almost midnight. We were given a place to stay. The hospital started running various tests on the twins from Sunday till Thursday after which they confirmed that their liver was joined.
“The doctor said when they opened their twins’ stomach, they would know what else they were sharing. They assured us that the surgery will go well by God’s grace,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
They were told that the surgery would last from 8am till between 5pm and 5.30pm.
“At 8am on Friday, they came and carried the children. They said they would call me if something was going to happen. Around 2.30pm, one of the doctors called us. I asked what the problem was since they said they would finish the surgery by 5pm, but the person that called didn’t say.
“My wife was worried. She feared that something bad had happened to both or either of the twins. We hurried down to the hospital. When we got there, we were told that the babies were fine. I said, ‘To God be the glory’. My wife knelt down and started praising God and crying,” Mr. Ugwoke narrated.
The couple was told to wait for 20 minutes after which they went inside the Intensive Care Unit to see the children for the first time since they were separated.
“They were breathing slightly but we wanted to hear them cry. After we had dinner, went back to the hospital after 8pm expecting to hear them cry but we didn’t. The next day, we went back around 8am. One of the twins cried and in the evening of that day, both of them cried,” Mr. Ugwoke said looking at his wife. Both of them shared a smile.
“Three days after the surgery, they brought the twins to where we were lodged. For three days, both of them looked very healthy. They were crying and defecating well. We called our Reverend Father and told him that the children were alive,” he said.
Before departing for Nigeria, x-rays and scans were conducted on the twins and the doctor assured Mr. and Mrs. Ugwoke that everything was fine.
“We asked for a date to come back for checkup but the doctor gave us only Paracetamol and assured us that there was no need to come back. The doctor said that if we needed any assistance, we should consult a surgeon in Nigeria, but he said there was nothing to worry about. He said the children would lead normal lives and we should give them normal food,” a visibly overjoyed Mr. Ugwoke said.
On Monday, December 11, 2017, the couple arrived in Nigeria with the successfully separated twins and on the insistence of the Rev. Fr. Ezezue, took the twins for checkup.
“Our Reverend Father insisted that we go straight to a hospital in Lekki from the airport to ensure that the surgery was indeed successful. They did x-ray, checked their livers, kidneys, all their organs, even the vein that was joined together. The hospital confirmed that everything was fine. We stayed at Lekki for two days and on the third day, we went home,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
“Since then till date, there has been no complication. The worry we had at a time was with James. His umbilical cord used to bring out pus. We saw a doctor who said it was a normal thing for anyone who underwent surgery. Everything has been fine since then. We are grateful to everyone who donated to save the lives of our twins and we pray continually that God will bless them for their kindness,” he said.
Having undergone a successful surgery, the children were given the names Chizaram (God answered me) and Chimeziem (God did me well).
“That period, we prayed and prayed until it was as if our head was on fire,” Mrs. Ugwoke said. “It wasn’t a good experience but I’m glad it ended on a happy note.”
The children are a year and five months old now, and the couple says they plan to enrol them in school about this time next year.
“They were supposed to start school last month but I want them to be strong because of what they went through. Now they are at home, we can monitor them. At school, many people wouldn’t know what they had been through and may not be able to give them that attention. I want them to start school two years after the surgery,” Mr. Ugwoke said.