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Ethiopian twins get surgery for split hand syndrome

Thirteen-year-old Ethiopian twin brothers are preparing to go home after undergoing surgery for a rare genetic disorder.
November 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Thirteen-year-old twins, Zelalem and Kidanu, from Ethiopia, suffer from a rare genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 50,000 children. The brothers are preparing to go back home. Since July, they've become a central part of Brooke Bohm's family.

They'll never forget their first trip to the beach, their first swim in a pool, or the months they spent at Malibu High School learning to be American teenagers.

"They have given so much joy to that school, and it's taught everybody at the school the joy that they can give back," said Bohm, who is with Mending Kids International, Malibu Guild.

In their home in Addis Ababa, the fraternal twins live in a one-room home with dirt floors. They shine shoes to support their large family. That's how they caught the attention of Mending Kids International and Cedars Sinai Medical Center orthopedic surgeons.

Both suffer from a very rare condition called split hand syndrome.

"[It is] a genetic mutation where you have a failure to form and a malformation of the hand," said Dr. Ryan Dellamaggiora with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "Some of the deformities were quite extreme with their thumbs actually being bent backwards."

That made it difficult for them to grasp. Dellamaggiora redesigned their fingers to be more stable and flexible.

"You can see here how we straightened it out, and we made it so that hopefully in the future it will continue to grow straight as he grows," said Dellamaggiora.

The surgery will improve their hands, but Bohm believes the experience will change their lives.

"They are for sure going home knowing now that they can make something of themselves, and that's bigger than surgery," she said.

Bohm says Zelalem and Kidanu have changed her and her family just as much. And while they've learned quite a few American words, these are the ones they can't say enough: "Thank you very, very much."

The boys go home on Tuesday, and Bohm and her family say they'll miss them terribly. Mending Kids International continues to sponsor other children and help them get life changing surgeries.


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