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Twins make medical history

PUBLISHED: 11:36 18 September 2008 | UPDATED: 07:39 01 August 2010

A TEENAGER has helped his twin brother to survive by giving him a piece of his back in an operation that has made medical history.

Scott Mills, 19, from Mutford, near Beccles, has severe scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.

A TEENAGER has helped his twin brother to survive by giving him a piece of his back in an operation that has made medical history.

Scott Mills, 19, from Mutford, near Beccles, has severe scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. He needs metal rods put in his spine in an operation that will help him breathe more easily, stop his spine collapsing and, in the long term, save his life. But after previous operations the skin on his back was so scarred and thin that surgeons would not have been able to sew him up again.

So his brother Luke has donated a 10in by 6in flap - a piece of skin, fat and muscle with a vein and artery - from his back. It is the first time the operation has ever been done on identical twins - the most similar procedure happened in the United States in 1999, where surgeon Bob Allen took material from a woman's stomach to reconstruct her twin sister's breast.

Elaine Sassoon, consultant plastic surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, has worked with Dr Allen in the past.

She said: “We used the same principles that we use every day, but applied them to twins. We planned it very carefully. It was a team effort with the operating theatre nurses, the ward teams and the anaesthetist. One of the anaesthetists for Scott came in on his day off - the anaesthetic could have been dangerous for Scott.

“I had sleepless nights. It was worse than a standard operation because you are operating on a healthy person who doesn't need surgery. If I had taken the flap from him and failed it would have been terrible.”

Scott, who has a place at the University of East Anglia to study accountancy but has had to defer it because of his health, has had scoliosis since he was a baby and has endured 20 operations. He spent eight weeks in hospital in 2006 having metal rods put in his spine. But they wore through the skin, and the wound became infected.

He said: “I was in hospital and the doctors were trying to brainstorm what they could do about the wound on my back. That was when Miss Sassoon said 'It's a shame you don't have an identical twin brother', and I said 'Well, I do'.”

The operation did not happen until nearly a year later, and a great deal of planning followed. There was a nail-biting time that followed while genetic tests were done to make sure they really were identical twins. Then on August 18 the operations were done simultaneously in adjoining operating theatres at the N&N. Consultant plastic surgeon Jon Clibbon carried out the operation on Scott, while Miss Sassoon operated on Luke.

Scott said: “I think we are closer than brothers because we are at the same stage of life. We were already close anyway so we knew we would do anything we could to help each other.”

But despite that, Scott initially told his brother not to do it because he did not want him to suffer. Luke, who is studying French at the British Institute in Paris, said: “He was more worried about me than he was about himself, after all he had been through.”

Scott said: “It was really nice of him to say he would do it. There is a lot more pain involved for the donor than the recipient.”

It was a worrying time for the brothers' parents Alison and Duncan. Scott said: “They said it was bad enough having one son in hospital, never mind two. I think they were really proud of Luke.”

Scott's next operation is on October 18, when he will have the metal rods put back in his spine to stop it collapsing.

His brother will come back from Paris to see him after the operation.

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