A set of conjoined twins who have never looked each other in the eye have been given fresh hope they may soon be separated.
Now four years later signs suggest the sisters, now aged seven, are reaching a point where a separation might be possible but still highly dangerous.
In their first interview since failed efforts to separate their girls, mum and dad Claudia and Alin Dogaru have revealed:
- They are in an 'unbearable race against the clock' to have their girls separated.
- They soon face a risky decision that could mean life or death for their daughters
- The separation of similar twins Rital and Ritag Gaboura by doctors at London's Great Ormond Street last month gave them further hope.
The longer the family wait, the more complicated a separation will become. The family has been told conjoined twins rarely live past the age of 11. In an agonising twist the surgery is highly dangerous and could kill them.
Doctors sadly abandoned a major previous effort 2007 when it looked like they might die during the procedure.
The family were told to wait until the girls' blood pressures became more balanced before another attempt.
Giving them fresh hope have the girls may soon live independently from each other,tests suggest that their blood pressures are equalling out. In a scientific mystery 'Ana's' blood pressure has been low, while 'Tati's' high.
Now a team of specialists in Chicago, the twins' home town, are looking at new ways of performing the miracle surgery.
But with no advances techniques to safely isolate their vascular systems - the family's greatest hope is still that someone can find a breakthrough. Despite their physical problems, the girls finished top of their class last year. They love swimming and dressing up.
"But we can only do it if doctors find a way that will give them a reasonable chance of surviving the op.
"We have a new glimmer of hope but still need someone to come to us with a proposal we can accept. There's a level with risk with any surgery to anyone and we accept that. But we need survival odds like that to go forward.
"Remaining together, we just don't know how long they have. Many don't make it past 11."
Dad Alin, 36, a priest added: "It's agonising. They become more fused together and it makes things more and more difficult.
"The separation is a double-edged sword. It would change their lives, but could also end them.
Our girls are so special. We want them to have long and happy lives. We are in a race against the clock and it's unbearable"
Since the failed attempt in August 2007 by physicians at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, the Dogarus have battled to give their little girls the best lives possible.
During Claudia's pregnancy in 2003, doctors at the Children's Medical Centre Dallas successfully separated two other craniopagus (joined at the head) twins .
Egyptian two-year-olds Mohamed and Ahmed Ibrahim were flown to the US and separated in a 34-hour operation.
Like Ana and Tati, they did not share a brain, but the surgery was complicated by shared blood vessels.
Alin said: "We saw last month that two other craniopagus twins in London were separated too.
"Seeing twins like Tati and Ana separated gave us hope.
Our little girls are so special, have a huge love of life and deserve to be here for as long as possible.
But the family face huge challenges because of the girls' condition.
Alin said: "Sometimes other children won't play with them because they can't keep up with games like tag. It's difficult for kids to understand things and to be sensitive sometimes.
"It can be very upsetting. But at times like that we have to come together as a family and suggest another game we can all play together.
"There are other things they can't do that they'd love, like trampolining. But it's too dangerous so we have to find alternatives and remind them of things they can do."
Being joined at the top of Tati's head and the back of Ana's means Tati and Ana have never looked each other in the eye. To see each other's faces they need a combination of mirrors or photos.
Alin explained: "Without a hunger drive Tati ins't interested in food, so we nourish her in other ways. But we feel devastated she can't join in meals with the rest of the family. We hope a separation could change that and lots of things."
To make sure she gets the nutrients she needs Tati had a feeding tube fitted to her stomach in April 2007. She now takes high-protein formulas like supplements or blended food directly into her tummy.
Because Ana's kidneys do not work, Tati's kidneys work for both of them - keeping them both alive. Following heart surgery Tati also has to wear leg braces to help her walk, run and jump.
Claudia said: "Even though they've been together all their lives they have very different personalities.
"Tati's favourite colour is blue and Ana's pink. Ana finds it easier to move so it has made her more physical. She's more of a doer while Tati's the thinker.
"It really surprised us," she added. "Identical twins are often similar and like to wear the same things, but not ours. They never want to dress alike. They just have different tastes."
Both parents, who also have a son, Theodor, one, and daughter Maria, 11, believe the twins' differences are efforts to show individuality.
"They want to show they're different," said Claudia. "The idea of separation scares them a little. It's a fear of the unknown because all they've ever known is life together.
We know that a safe separation is their only chance at becoming adults. They are so scared of hospitals after being so many times, but it's something we must do. We always say we can decide for them to live, but we cannot decide for them to die.
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