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Miracle surgery

"Miracle surgery" Continued...

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

Choudhrie wanted the team's opinion on whether it were possible to do the operation at Padhar. While larger hospitals in Delhi, Mumbai, England, and Singapore had offered to do the surgery, Choudhrie felt that Padhar could give the girls something the other hospitals lacked-love.

"The children had become ours by then, we were also attached to them," he said.

At first, Jacob thought the Padhar operation seemed like a remote possibility: The hospital was not equipped for two babies, and if anything went wrong, they were four to five hours from the nearest major hospital. But after a November visit to Padhar, she changed her mind: "Seeing the hospital, seeing the devotion of everybody around and in the hospital to the children, the way the children were looked after, they wouldn't have gotten the same love if they were at a big hospital. They'd just be another set of twins."

To perform the surgery in Padhar, the doctors would have to ensure facilities, equipment, and personnel at the same level-or greater-than the best hospitals in the country. So each doctor wrote up a list of needed equipment-from ventilators to monitors to sutures-and the team worked to get them, at times asking companies to donate or lend them expensive machines. As word of the surgery spread, money poured in from hospital supporters and locals. Ten months later, the team had all the equipment it needed.

The classmates also pulled in other specialist doctors, including Albert Shun from Sydney, a pediatric surgeon who had previously done three conjoined twin separations. The team of 23 doctors started, planned, and discussed the operation over Skype and email, motivated by love for the girls but also by a common faith.

"All of us were Christians," Jacob recalled. "All of us had a common goal that we were to give the best care to these children. If we were not assured of the best care we wouldn't go ahead."

Arriving at Padhar from all corners of the world, they joked with one another, recalling the five years spent together in their tight-knit class of 60. But this reunion was about more than memories and storytelling.

The doctors performed the operation successfully on June 20. Twelve days later, the staff celebrated the girls' first birthday with cake, new dresses, and a visit from Chief Minister Chouhan.

By now, Stuti had improved so much that they took her off the ventilator, but Aradhana, who had been sick before the operation, remained on it. Her health fluctuated and Choudhrie noticed that it was taking a lot of effort for her to breathe. She went back to the operating room after an infection, and seemed to get better, but a few days later she fell into cardiac arrest and the doctors could not revive her.

She died July 5.

For the hospital staff, it felt like losing a family member.

"In the hospital, people are dying all the time. ... But we were family, and the rules can be anything, but when it's your own family, it changes the whole thing," Choudhrie said in a Skype interview, tears falling from his eyes.

"It shook my faith a bit when we lost one," he continued. "I never thought in my wildest dreams with all the prayer support that we had that we would lose one. To my mind they were meant to be for the glory of God. But God's ways-you can't explain them, I have not understood it."

Her parents buried Aradhana in early July in their hometown. Three carloads of Padhar staff attended the burial and Choudhrie said a prayer for the girl. The parents had started visiting the girls months before the surgery, and after several meetings with psychiatrist Thyagarajan, had decided to take the girls back after the operation. Stuti will return home after a few more months of recuperation.

While Aradhana's death has hit the hospital staff hard, Choudhrie believes they are starting to heal and move forward."I don't know what God's plans are, I hope I can just trust in them, that He brings us out of this time as the Great Healer."

Despite the grief, the surgery has a widespread impact: While the team of specialists was at Padhar for the operation, the doctors were also able to conduct more than a dozen more surgeries for children with abnormal disorders. Much of the donated equipment and updated infrastructure at the hospital will allow for more surgeries in the future, helping more patients.

Jacob said the separation showed the world that mission hospitals should be taken seriously.

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