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Filipino conjoined twins separated by Taiwan doctors return for nursing school

20 years after separation surgery by Tzu Chi doctors, twins return to Taiwan to study nursing

(Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology photo)

(Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Two formerly conjoined twins from the Philippines who were separated by doctors at Tzu Chi Hospital 20 years ago have returned as adults to Taiwan to study nursing at the Buddhist charity's university in eastern Taiwan.

The Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology (TCUST) in Hualien City inaugurated its first four-year public-funded foreign nursing class this year. After graduation, students will stay in Taiwan to serve for at least five years and help alleviate the nursing staff shortage in Taiwan, reported Liberty Times.

This year's first class of 30 freshmen includes a pair of twin sisters from the Philippines. The sisters, who were conjoined at birth, underwent separation surgery at Tzu Chi Hospital 20 years ago and have returned to Taiwan for their studies.

The sisters expressed their gratitude for the surgery they received years ago, which allowed them to lead normal lives. As a result, since childhood, they have aspired to become nursing professionals and are delighted to take the first step toward realizing their dreams.

According to the Ministry of Welfare, as of the end of August this year, there were 318,282 individuals in Taiwan who had obtained the national nursing certificate, but only 180,000 actually entered the nursing profession. For this reason, TCUST's Nursing Department launched a specialized nursing program this year.

Tzu Chi covers tuition fees and provides a NT$5,000 monthly allowance, plus airfare to Taiwan, while medical examinations, and visas are paid by the university. This year’s inaugural class includes students from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and other countries, and out of the 30 new students, nine were victims of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

One of the more remarkable stories is a pair of twin sisters, Rachel Frances Banatao and Lea Grace Banatao, who were born as conjoined twins. With the assistance of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association, their mother brought her daughters to Taiwan's Tzu Chi Hospital to undergo separation surgery in 2003 and were successfully separated after a six-hour operation.

After the sisters returned to the Philippines, they received Tzu Chi scholarships for their education from kindergarten through high school. Their mother, Marieta Awel, served as a Tzu Chi committee member and her daughters served as Tzu Chi volunteers in the Philippines.

The two sisters said that from a young age, they aspired to become nurses when they grew up to help others and not just be the recipients of help. They also were quoted as hoping that in the future, they would participate in medical missions alongside Tzu Chi volunteers to help more people.