Chloe and Nicole Astbury, the Siamese twins who were born joined from the chest to the navel, yesterday lost their fight for life, just days after doctors discussed the possibility of their going home.
The girls, who were born at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, died within five minutes of each other early yesterday after succumbing to bowel disease.
They had survived a life-saving operation to separate a shared bowel after their birth on 14 September.
But the health of both the twins had deteriorated rapidly since the beginning of the week, when Chloe contracted the bowel disease, known as neo-natal necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), which spread to other vital organs.
Alan Dickson, the consultant who had been treating them, said at a press conference yesterday: "The effects of the disease spread to both children. They had been going downhill on Monday and Tuesday. They were deteriorating as we were supporting them and doing what we could."
Mr Dickson added that the twins were put on life-support systems on Tuesday night, but they died "of their own accord". Nicole died before Chloe at about 1.40am.
"To come through what they came through in the first 11 days of life and then to be hit with this out of the blue was extremely bad luck," he said.
Their parents Melanie and Brian Astbury, had been contacted at 12.45am and asked to come to the hospital. There the couple were told that the girls would not live.
Such was their shock and distress, according to Mr Dickson, that Mr and Mrs Astbury were unable to go in and say goodbye to their daughters. Later the couple's solicitor, Andrea McWatt, said: "Melanie and Brian were full of hope and this turn of events was totally unexpected for them both. As you can imagine they are both devastated."
Until Chloe and Nicole contracted the bowel disease, doctors said the twins' progress had been "remarkable".
Last week doctors had discussed with their parents the possibility of the twins being discharged from hospital.The last time the hospital had commented publicly on the condition of the twins, they were said to be putting on weight, with medical staff "quietly pleased" with their progress after the surgery.
Doctors had been waiting for them to become strong enough to undergo a full separation operation, which was not expected for at least a year.
Melanie Astbury, 25, who also has a three year-old son, Nathan, had returned home 10 days after the caesarean birth. She had been a daily visitor to St Mary's hospital, washing the girls' faces and changing their nappies, and said she felt "much more involved as a mother".
Earlier this week she and her 26-year-old husband revealed in a television interview that they had been sent hate mail for not terminating the pregnancy when it was announced that Mrs Astbury was having Siamese twins. They said they had "no regrets" about the births.
About 60 per cent of Siamese twins - which occur about once in 100,000 births - are stillborn. Many others survive only a few days.
The last British Siamese twins, two girls born in Bristol in 1986 to Pat and Andrew Parrett, shared a heart and died three-and-a-half days after their birth.
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