“These black conjoined twins were separated at birth. This is how they look after 20 years.
Iman and Simat were black Siamese twins who were able to become wholly separate human beings after a long surgery. Twenty years later, there’s a lot of difference in how they look compared to how they looked at birth.
On the fateful day that Aman and Simaat were born, anesthesia was administered to their mom, Emma, and she fell into a deep sleep. Her husband David was right outside the operating room and wouldn’t stop pacing. Normally, this was supposed to be a simple enough surgery – open the belly of the woman, bring out the babies, and stitch it back up. Except it wasn’t.
During the weeks that had led up to this particular day, Emma and David didn’t dare lower their guards for fear of what might go wrong. A few months ago, Emma had run a routine scan to see the development progress of her babies. But that scan had revealed news that wasn’t palatable – Emma’s babies were conjoined at the base of their spines. That changed everything.
The doctors had advised the couple that the babies needed to be delivered prematurely to have a fighting chance at life. Carrying them to term was a big no-no. Carrying to term meant they would be too big, and Emma’s womb wouldn’t give them enough space in their conjoined positions. It also meant the birth would be more complicated, and one of the twins or both may end up in a dire state.
The girls were born a few weeks early, and due to their premature state, they were placed in an incubator. It was there that David met his daughters for the first time. They were utterly adorable. The medics assured him that they were in peak health despite being conjoined. David saw for himself, for the first time, the fusion of his daughters’ backs at the base of their spines. It knocked the wind right out of him.
He thought that he was prepared for this, having been informed months before. But knowing about something and witnessing it firsthand were two completely different experiences. He told himself that the situation wasn’t that bad, but the churning of his stomach said otherwise.
When Emma finally woke up, she was wheeled into see her babies in the incubator. Tears sprang to her eyes. They were so small, so perfect, and identical. The thought that the girls would never look directly into each other’s faces hurt. They wouldn’t have a chance to stare into mirror images of each other.
After a few days had passed, the couple were able to carry their girls, but only one person could carry both at the same time. Emma burst into tears. It felt to her that all she had been doing since she met her twin daughters was shed uncontrollable tears. Will it always be like this, Emma wailed, feeling broken inside?
The doctor invited the couple into the office, and after a heavy sigh, he dove straight into the reason for the meeting. He informed the couple that their daughters had a condition known as spina bifida. It’s a condition that can lead to paralysis of the lower limbs, but it’s not a death sentence. He assured them that there were people who enjoyed a wholesome life despite having the condition.
David tried to take it in stride, but Emma wasn’t willing. The twins hadn’t been named yet, and because of their current predicament, Emma didn’t want to give them names. It was her own way of rebelling against the situation and refusing to get too attached to the girls in case anything went wrong. After all, the doctors had said that conjoined twins sometimes didn’t survive long. This last part was just an excuse because Emma was already heavily invested in her girls – body, spirit, and soul.
In the weeks that followed, Emma’s sadness didn’t abate one bit. She watched over her daughters, often noticing their physical discomfort at being stuck perpetually in the same position. She noticed that sometimes one would want to turn left, and the other would want to turn right, and when they couldn’t, they cried at the top of their lungs. Emma patted them to console them, and on many occasions, tears streamed down her cheeks as she did so.
David was as distraught as Emma. He often had to go to work, and Emma was the one who stayed home with the children. One day, after a long day at work, David trudged home, unaware of what awaited him. He was in deep thought as he took public transportation. He recalled how happy he and Emma had been when they had discovered that they were expecting. The happiness had been blown away like smoke when they discovered the condition of the girls. Ever since then, the peaceful, restful atmosphere that used to be their home had morphed into one of sadness and heaviness.
Walking in through the front door, he found Emma sitting on a couch in the sitting room and sobbing profusely. Alarmed, he rushed to kneel by her side and demanded to know what was going on. Has something happened to the girls? Were they hurt? Was she all right?
Emma abruptly stood up and screamed that their situation was too unfair. What was the use of having children if you were only going to watch them cry in pain and discomfort and be unable to do anything about it? Her chest heaved, and sorrowful moans escaped from deep in her throat. David’s eyes turned misty. He reached for Emma and wrapped her in his embrace. Over and over, he murmured to her that everything would be fine.
Family and friends got wind of what the couple were dealing with and started to come visiting. They felt the depressing energy of the home and began to point out the bright side of the situation to the couple in hopes of bringing some cheer.
“Don’t you see how God has blessed you? You have two daughters who are hale and hearty. Yes, they’re conjoined, but do you know that 40 to 60% of conjoined twins arrive as stillborn?” one of their friends asked.
After numerous visits, prayers, and good wishes from well-wishers, the couple brightened up. However, they had one steady fear permeating their minds: The twins were the couple’s first children, and they turned out conjoined. They imagined that it meant that other children they would have might have some kind of disability. They wondered if something in their genes was responsible for this.
As a couple, they took this concern to the doctor. The doctor ran tests that came out negative for any gene anomalies. He comforted the couple and calmed their fears by letting them know that they were both healthy and would have healthy children. There was no scientific reason to explain why the twins were born conjoined, except that a fertilized egg that split into two didn’t split fully and became fused at a certain part of the body. This was a rare occurrence of one in 200,000 births.
Although the condition was rare, and there were few documentations about it, the couple decided to take a leap of faith. They met with the doctors at Birmingham’s Children Hospital to find out if there was any way to successfully separate the girls. Having watched their daughters for weeks, they had observed that each of them had independent streaks. They were convinced that the girls were meant to individually experience a rich life.
However, this was in 2001, and the doctors had more unpleasant news to share with the hopeful couple. The separation surgery of conjoined twins had only been done twice successfully in the world, and that was not in the UK where the couple was residing. Also, if the twins were to undergo a separation surgery, there was a 5 to 25% chance of survival. With this pronouncement, Emma and David’s spirits plummeted. David licked his lower lip nervously and asked what would happen if they didn’t do the surgery. The doctors informed them that the girls would have to stay together for the rest of their lives.
This alternative didn’t sound so bad to the couple, but they reasoned that the girls might want different things when they grew up. What if they came to resent being joined because their parents were too afraid to risk getting them separated via surgery?
They confided in extremely close family and friends. After talks and prayers with them, the couple had a confidence boost. They went to the doctor and told him that they wanted to go ahead with the surgery. Hearing this, the doctors laid out other risks involved before them. If the girls survived the surgery, there might be after-effects. He explained that the girls each had a weak leg, and due to that, they might never walk in their lives – they’d be paralyzed. There was a high risk of this occurring and a chance that it wouldn’t.
Emma and David relied on that slim chance that their girls would walk. It was a scary place to be in, and tearfully, they went ahead with the decision to have surgery, hoping for the best.
Once the hospital received the go-ahead from the couple, a team of doctors were assembled. They were led by neurosurgeon Tony Hawley. The doctors spent several weeks pouring over the twins’ medical history. They studied their scans and internal body structure thoroughly. What they discovered was that although the girls were individually healthy, they shared some major organs, including their bladder, which needed to be separated.
Thankfully, they didn’t share any other vital organs, but some of their organs would be whole in each body but stuck together. Those needed to be separated and allowed to exist on their own. The doctors also considered the girls’ chances at reconstruction surgeries after the major separation surgery. Reconstruction surgeries were necessary after separation to fix any part of the girls’ bodies that couldn’t be addressed during the main surgery. They confirmed that it was doable.
Having covered every possible detail, the surgery eventually happened. The twins were three months old. There was an army of medics in the operating room, and the media also waited for the outcome. From the moment that it was concluded that the separation would happen, the media had gotten wind of it and were determined to follow up on the story.
After 16 long hours of uncertainty, the medics finally announced that the separation was successful. Emma and David’s relief were fierce. They jumped up with joy and kept muttering thank you. Several news outlets published the story because it was a historic moment – the UK’s first spine surgery separation.
The recovery process was long and strenuous. It was during this time that the twins were finally named – Iman and Simat. At almost four months old, at long last, their parents were able to hold one girl each in their arms. A photograph was taken to immortalize the moment.
The girls spent a significant amount of time at the hospital. In the years that followed, they had monthly appointments, physiotherapy sessions, and reconstructive operations and surgeries. Because of this, they became close to the staff and patients of Birmingham Hospital. Many of them became like extended family. Dr. Tony Hawley, who led the team of doctors that separated them, became a close family friend who attended all of the girls’ birthdays and special events.
Part of the recovery process was closely observing the twins for any surgery after-effects. Everybody was especially interested to see if they would walk. For a long time, they didn’t. Doctors tried to console the couple, but Emma shook them off. Surprisingly, she was the most positive that they would. She believed that if God had brought her girls this far, he would do the rest.
A few weeks after the girls’ separation surgery, Emma and David had found out that they were expecting another child. It had been totally unexpected. Eleven months after the twins were born, Dearis arrived. She was born without any disability, and she was a joyful bundle.
Dearis was close to her older sisters and was always found playing with them. Some people who didn’t know better saw the three of them and thought they were triplets. Dearis started walking a few weeks to her one-year-old birthday. Her older sisters were about to turn two, and when they saw this, they were fired up. A few days to her second birthday, Ama began walking. Iman followed suit five weeks later. This event was truly miraculous.
However, the weaker legs of the twins meant that a five-minute walk took them close to 20 minutes. Also, the girls were not able to do everything kids their age do. This was prominent when they started primary school. That being said, what they lacked in mobility, they largely made up for it in resilience. The twins didn’t let their disability stop them from doing all that they wanted, even if they weren’t the best at it. They were also good judges of character, so they made friends who were accepting of their situation and supportive.
The public kept following the twins’ progress. News crews visited the twins’ house on their birthdays and during some holidays. They had a lot of footage of the girls at various stages of growth. The twins were cuddly, and there were days they slapped back into each other as if they were still conjoined. Although the twins turned out five times better and healthier than expected, they still suffered from muscle and joint pain occasionally. On bad days, it was so severe that Aman used a wheelchair, and they both used crutches.
Dearis and the parents were a solid support system on days like this. As teens, the girls were guarded about their story, but their classmates often Googled them up and asked, “Is it true?” As teens, they also got work experience at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, choosing to volunteer there. They met with so many of the medics who were in the operating room when they were separated.
The twins were in the same school year as their younger sister, Dearis. She’s the glue to three of them. Three of them had a virtual prom due to COVID-19. Twenty years later, this is how the twins look. They’re beautiful dark-skinned women. They’re both leading individual lives but have similar interests. They love R&B, gospel, and jazz music. They like hoodies and trainers. They also enjoy dressing up for evenings out.
Earlier in their growth, Ama was the outgoing one, but now, while Iman is more of the extrovert. The biggest difference between them is that Iman loves sci-fi thrillers while Sasha is into chick flicks. It’s normal for strangers to walk up to them and say, “I remember you. Aren’t you one of those twins?” People often ask them how their journey has been. They admit it’s been overwhelming. It wasn’t comfortable at first to have the public’s eye on their business, but they’ve grown accustomed to it.
They attend university and are pursuing different career paths. Iman is studying political science while Sasha is studying technology and cybersecurity. Dearis is studying childhood, youth, and educational studies. For the 20th anniversary of their separation surgery, the Matat sisters, including Dearis, their younger sister, joined forces to raise £10,000 for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. People donated via their JustGiving page. Isn’t that a beautiful way of paying it forward?
What an inspiring story! What decision would you have taken if you were in Emma and David’s shoes? Let us know in the comments.”