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Top surgeon never feared for twinsDr Edward Kiely after receiving his honorary fellowship from Prof Eilis McGovern at the Royal College of Surgeons.

THE surgeon who led the successful separation surgery of the Benhaffaf twins has said he never feared for their lives during the procedure.

Formerly-conjoined Hassan and Hussein Benhaffaf underwent the 14-hour operation at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital last April.

"They were never close to dying," Cork-born Edward Kiely said at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin at the weekend.

"But when you do big operations terrible things may happen, nothing is predictable, there are no promises, no guarantees but it was never touch and go, thanks be to God," he added.

Some 20 staff, including four anaesthetists and four surgeons, worked in shifts during the complex procedure to separate the boys. The twins, who are also from Cork, were joined from the chest to the pelvis but did not share any major organs.

"On average we get one a year, you don't do very many, there are not that many of them around," Mr Kiely said of the separation surgery. "They are complicated but they are not very difficult to do," he added.

"Of course conjoined twins attract attention and they are very complicated and the mortality is higher than any other operation but they don't generally die of the operation itself, whereas in tumour surgery, they might die from the operation.

"The twins are complicated but the technical aspects are not very difficult. Tumour surgery is very difficult," he added.

Mr Kiely said he is still in awe with the public's fascination with conjoined twins.

"I'm afraid I've never understood the absolute fascination that people have had with conjoined twins.

"I think it's just the idea of two people being stuck absolutely inextricably together and it's a very fundamental human thing."

Mr Kiely, who has been based at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital since the mid-1980s, is considered one of the top surgeons in the world specialising in the separation of conjoined twins.

He was awarded an honorary fellowship by the RCSI and he gave a lecture on the 'Surgery of Conjoined Twins'.

After being honoured, he said: "This weekend has been the highlight of my career, doing the lecture and getting the honourary fellowship, absolutely no doubt about it," he said.

"I have to say, for a very average working surgeon, I think I got more of my share of things but this is the best."

Irish Independent