The conjoined twin Jodie is making a rapid recovery and has begun breathing without the aid of a ventilator following the 20-hour operation to separate her from her sister, doctors said yesterday.

The conjoined twin Jodie is making a rapid recovery and has begun breathing without the aid of a ventilator following the 20-hour operation to separate her from her sister, doctors said yesterday.

St Mary's Hospital, Manchester, where the surgery took place earlier this week, said it was still a critical time for the three month old baby girl and she would continue to be monitored closely.

A statement issued by the hospital said: "Jodie is well and is making a rapid recovery. Since last night she has been breathing without support and has started feeding normally."

Her parents are believed to be keeping a constant vigil at her bedside in the intensive care unit of the hospital after bidding an emotional goodbye to her sister, Mary, before the operation began last Monday.

Mary, the weaker of the two who had no functioning heart or lungs and depended for life on Jodie, died as expected during the surgery which was completed at 5am on Tuesday.

The surgical team who operated on the twins will be almost as anxious as the parents about the outcome. It is understood to be the first separation operation attempted at St Mary's and it has been conducted under intense interest from around the world.

Although the lead surgeon had participated in a separation operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, the St Mary's team chose not to consult their more experienced London colleagues about the operation.

The parents, Roman Catholics from the Maltese island of Gozo, originally opposed the operation believing that their daughters' fate should be left in the hands of God. Surgeons at the hospital took their case to court and won the right to operate.

It is thought that the parents may now have established a bond with Jodie, which led them to drop their court battle to prevent the operation going ahead. As the days pass and Jodie gets stronger, that bond is likely to intensify.

An inquest into Mary's death is expected next month.

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