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Kyrgyzstan: Separated Siamese Twins Learn To Live Independent Lives

Zita and Gita Zita and Gita are Siamese twins born in a little village some 40 kilometers north of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek. They were surgically separated by Russian doctors two years ago and since have lived in Moscow under constant medical observation. But this summer, Zita and Gita are briefly home again. They are visiting their parents and siblings in their native village of Zapadnyi near Bishkek.

Prague, 8 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Zumriyat Rezakhanova, 39, says she and her husband Rashid, 42, were in deep shock when she gave birth to Siamese twins 13 years ago.

The twin girls, whom they named Zita and Gita, had two bodies joined at their lower extremities. That gave them two functioning legs and a third underdeveloped leg in-between.

Their mother says the decision to find doctors to separate the girls was not immediate. “In 2001, Zita was dying," she says. "Doctors said we should expect a fatal outcome and be prepared. But Gita was absolutely healthy. She was crying and begging, ‘Mummy, please find a doctor, I don’t want to die.’”

Zumriyat says it took two years to find doctors. After visiting several European countries, they found surgeons in Russia who agreed to conduct the difficult operation. It lasted for 12 hours. Zita and Gita got separate bodies, with one leg each, and lives that don’t depend on each other biologically.

But socially, they still spend a lot of their time together. And the family calls the day of the operation, 26 March 2003, the girls’ second birthday.

Their mother, Zumriyat, has come to fully understand only recently that her daughters are now two separate human beings -- and that realization has brought her great joy. The girls, and their mother, explained how that happened:

Zita: "When Mom called, I wasn’t feeling well."

Gita: "I went for a walk."

Zita: "Gita went for a walk. I said I wouldn’t go. Mom called and asked, ‘Hi, where is Gita?’ I said, ‘Outside’. She asked, ‘And where are you?’ I said, ‘In the building.’ She was so surprised. She almost cried."

Zumriyat: "I was sitting, holding the telephone and trying to comprehend. I thought: ‘My God, what happiness. One went for a walk. The other is at home.’ It was some four months ago. I realized what happened and felt such joy.”

At present, Zita and Gita are cheerful and sociable girls who like to be photographed and are used to talking to journalists. No wonder -- they have been getting a lot of attention from media as well as from Russian celebrities, who often visit them and bring toys and flowers. It seems they feel a bit like celebrities, too.

Unlike them, Zumriyat remains very cautious while talking to reporters. But after a while, she softens a bit and says she’s felt hurt many times because “some journalists didn’t write the truth.” She chooses her words carefully as she talks about her daughters’ needs.

“They feel well, there have been no problems so far," Zumriyat says. "The only problem is prosthetic devices and colostomy bags. They need 60 boxes of colostomy bags a year. In Kyrgyzstan, as I found out, no colostomy bags can be found at all.”

Prosthetic devices for the two girls include two legs, which costs $7,500 each, and two corsets at $3,000 each. They have to be changed twice a year as the girls are growing fast, Zumriyat says. Those prices are extremely high for people in Kyrgyzstan, where the average monthly salary is around $40.

Zumriyat and Rashid have three other children. Their farm is the sole source of their modest income. Zumriyat says how difficult it was to find sponsors who paid for her flight to Moscow to pick up the two girls and bring them home for vacation.

Meanwhile, Zita and Gita talk about how many centimeters each of them grew in the past year, how they study at school, what subjects they like. But the biggest excitement is caused by questions about boys they like. They say there was a boy both of them liked in the Magadan sanatorium in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, which they recently left.

Zita and Gita (simultaneously and interrupting each other): "There were children in a camp there, in Sochi. A group of them came to us, introduced themselves. Gave us flowers. One of them was chubby."

Gita: "A chubby boy came up to me and asked, ‘What’s your name? I said, ‘Gita’. He came even closer.”

Zumriyat: "Oh, do two of you love the same guy now? I guess you met him in Magadan, right?"

Zita and Gita: "Yes."

Zumriyat: "Before, each of them had her own [boyfriend]. [laughter]”

Like any other girls their age, they excitedly talk about their dreams to get married someday. Then their excitement sinks a bit as they say they won’t be able to have children. Zumriyat explains that the girls have no genitals, uterus, and womb. They have one ovary and one kidney each.

Zumriyat again goes back to the girls’ needs and says she needs to find a proctologist who could help to build up some organs to ease their need to use colostomy bags. But then she stops the conversation out of sadness for her daughters. As she does, Zita and Gita cheer up quickly and talk about the jobs they want to have when they grow up.

Zita: "I want to work as a psychologist here."

RFE/RL: "Here?"

Zita: "Yes, at home. I want to wake up early and go to work, then come here again."

Gita: "And I want to become a doctor."

Zita: "I want the children to give me a kiss, and I’d say, ‘Children, let’s eat.'”

RFE/RL: "You want to work with children as a psychologist, right?"

Zita: "Yes."

Gita: "And I want to become a children’s doctor."

RFE/RL: "What kind of doctor?"

Gita: "Well, I want to do ultrasound because one can sit and work. It’s good for us."

Zita: "I also want to be sitting while working as a psychologist."

Gita: "We can’t stand for too long”.

They have to do a lot of exercises, primarily with bikes. Zumriyat corrects them when either of them makes a clattering sound with her artificial leg when walking. She says: “Girls, how should you walk? Like supermodels, right?!”

Zita and Gita immediately change their way of walking. And they carry themselves like supermodels, especially today as they have just received new t-shirts and trousers from their parents. They dress up and pose for pictures.

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