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

There was, medics said, a "slight judder" feel in the operation theatre, and a cheer erupted in the room. In ~ the end of the painstaking 16-hour procedure, the two tiny girls were separated. They had spent their very first three months attached at the spine.

It was a amazing day in ~ Birmingham Children's Hospital - the first time such an operation had actually been brought out in the UK, and only the third time in the world.

It was also extremely high danger - the survival rate for be separate conjoined twins is in between 5 and 25%. Also if they had actually come v the surgery, one or both the the girls could have to be paralysed together neurosurgeons conscientious separated your spines.

But, joyously, the operation was a finish success. Sanchia and Eman's elated and relieved parental Emma and David could finally host 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 David Mowatt v their daughters Sanchia and Eman shortly after the procedure to different them

Sanchia and Eman are now at university, along with their younger sister Damaris who was born just 11 month after the twins and also has been alongside them throughout their especially - and yet determinedly ordinary - lives.

"People don't yes, really talk about their conjoined stories, but it's simply what we're offered to," says Eman, showing on your entry right into the world.

Doctors suspect the sisters could lead normal lives if castle were successfully separated. Both have spina bifida but, through one weak foot each, the was not known how this would affect their development.

"They didn't understand if us were going to walk," states Sanchia. "When us did, civilization said it was a miracle."

Image source, PA Media

It was Sanchia who first defied expectations, toddling off at the age of two, v Eman following around five weeks later. Before long, they to be running about the family members home in the Birmingham suburb of good Barr.

Early life to be a mix of primary school, return trips come hospital and also the weird TV illustration to comment on their progress.

"We knew in ~ a young age we were various - hospital appointments, operations, and we couldn't do everything our friends were doing," recalls Eman, although she says their young classmates were "very accepting" of their situation, and they enjoy friendships that have remained come this day.

Image source, Emma Mowatt

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

"We adopted our handicap at a young age," says Sanchia. "We didn't allow anyone tell us we couldn't perform something."

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

" 'yes, I have a disability yet it's not for who to tell you what friend can and can't do'. Ns did operation that day, and I wasn't the finest but i did it.

"When someone states something choose that come you, it provides you the drive to think 'yes ns can!''"


Image source, Birmingham Children's Hospital
Image caption, Scans proved the challenge facing operated doctor - the twins to be fused in ~ the base of spine

The operation Sanchia and also Eman required to division their spinal cords, which were fused in ~ the base, had never been carried out in the UK.

Medics led through 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 two came together and fused as one. Over there was likewise a degree of rotation. We had to make our reduced so the each baby girl acquired her spinal cord back, and make a pipe to cover it.

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

After the separation the the spine, paediatric operated doctor Peter Gornall and also one that the world's leading specialists on conjoined twins, Lewis Spitz from an excellent Ormond Street, lugged out the cautious splitting of few of the girls' organs, which to be whole however were stuck together.

In your teens, the pair were more guarded about their history, but intrigue often got the better of their classmates.

"People were very curious - they'd asking us, is it true? yet we want to store that private," says Sanchia. "They googled us. Ns thought people would prevent talking - it's just a craze - yet they didn't."

The extensively respected neurosurgeon that separated the twins, Tony Hockley, ended up being a close family members friend.

He remembered every birthday, and also was a constant visitor come the Mowatts' home. He passed away suddenly in 2009, aged 65, and last year the twins attended a memorial event, come the pleasure of his family and colleagues.

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

The link with Birmingham Children's Hospital endured as Sanchia and Eman approached adulthood. So lot so, they both completed work-related experience there, meeting some of the medics who were in the operating room v them some 16 year earlier.

It was yes, really cool," states Sanchia. "We observed the anaesthetist who did the gas because that us, and likewise medical students who were there when we to be born.

Their high college experience to be cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, with their school required to near in March. "It was ripped away from us," claims Sanchia. "We space still make the efforts to obtain over that."

Undeterred, the twins and also their sister Damaris - that were in the very same school year - held a online prom through close girlfriend via Zoom. They even made flyers and tickets.

"It was an remarkable day," states Eman. "That's the way we closed off our college years, dancing approximately the life room."

The event was a to mark of lockdown. "April was bleak," recalls Eman, including that they shed a close relative to Covid-19.

"It was intense. But quarantine has told us to appreciate each other - it's carried out the finest in us."

The pandemic has brought the three sisters even closer, if that was possible. The pair are complete of praise for Damaris.

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"She is our driving force," states Sanchia, explaining that their sister has actually supported them plenty of times ~ operations, or as soon as they are having actually a complicated day.