At the end of May, a mother in eastern Uganda gave birth to a boy with four legs and four arms. While I’m sure seeing her son for the first time was a shock, I keep wondering about the birth itself. It’s hard enough to give birth to a child with half as many limbs. Recently, the baby, Paul, underwent a pioneering surgery in which he was separated from what doctors diagnosed as a parasitic twin.
Paul’s mother gave birth at home, and as you can imagine, she and her family lit out for the nearest hospital immediately, fearing that they had been the victims of witchcraft and would be ostracized by their community. The regional hospital wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation, so they sent the family to the Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to the Mulago Hospital. That’s where doctors determined that the extra limbs were a result of something called parasitic twinning, which is pretty much just what it sounds like — a twin which, rather than growing normally, or even conjoining in typical Siamese twin fashion, never fully developed. The twin’s head and heart never developed, but some parts of it — the limbs — did, and those parts essentially relied on Paul’s blood and body to keep them alive.