The Boys Joined at the Head

Five’s acclaimed documentary strand returns for new run of programmes exploring some remarkable tales of human experience from across the globe. The series opens with an inspiring new film about conjoined twins Mohammed and Ahmed Ibrahim, featuring exclusive medical scenes and candid archive
footage of their journey towards separation.

The Boys Joined at the Head tells the incredible story of the Ibrahim twins for the very first time, following their journey from their birthplace in Cairo to the hospital in Dallas, where pioneering surgery
to separate them took place in 2003. The film also documents their recovery back home in Egypt.

The chances of twins being born conjoined at the head with a shared supply of blood to the brain are ten million to one. When leading American craniofacial surgeon Dr Kenneth Salyer received photographs of the boys from their doctor in Egypt, a plan for a pioneering medical procedure was immediately set in motion.

Accompanied by their parents and a team of medical experts, the twins take their first step in the path to separation at just one year old – a trip to Medical City in Dallas. The harrowing year of testing that precedes the surgery is revealed in detail in archive film, medical imaging and stylised reconstructions. During the examinations, a breakthrough is made –the twins have largely separate brains, sharing only ten per cent of their brain tissue. This means that the operation has a greater chance of success. The gruelling tests culminate in tissue expanders being put under the twins’ skin for five months to ensure enough skin is available after the separation.

As well as footage from the operation, the documentary uses interviews with key medical personnel. During the 34 hours in the operating theatre, a total of 60 clinicians participated. Behind the scenes there are many more people involved, including medical modellers. Without these experts’ intricate and accurate plastic models of the twins’ heads, the surgery would have had to be based on two-dimensional scans and guesswork.

The film also portrays the emotional side of the twins’ story through interviews with their parents. The deep bond that the Ibrahim family formed with Dr Salyer and his team in Dallas is revisited when the twins return to America four years later for follow-up tests.

The Boys Joined at the Head comes full circle back in Cairo, where the twins’ physical, mental and social development is played out with images of them attending their local school. With an uncertain future looming, the boys’ parents reflect on their experiences so far and discuss their hopes and fears for their sons.

Wednesday 20th February at 9:00pm on five

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