Documentaries
Separate Lives (1996)
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A ONE-HOUR TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY

The remarkable story of conjoined twins from Pakistan and the pioneering operation that gave them a chance at a new life.

Separate Lives premiered on Discovery (Canada) and was broadcast around the world to huge audiences on Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel (USA) among others. Aired as part of the popular British BBC1 science series, Living Proof, it captured an audience of over four million viewers to become the most popular episode of the series

AWARDS

Gemini Award for Best Science, Technology, Nature and Environment Documentary (1998)

Cable Ace Award nominee (1997)

REVIEWS

“Separate Lives is a powerful television documentary, one that shows what the medium can do when it goes beyond providing mere entertainment.” – Marke Andrews, Vancouver Sun

“I was caught up in the drama of two little lives in the balance… the result is far more dramatic than anything you’ll ever see on ER.” – Jim Bawden, Toronto Star

“Bittersweet and disturbing… Separate Lives is an example of how a good documentary can humanize medical stories beyond just a scientific how-to.” – Claire Bickley, Toronto Sun

SYNOPSIS

Nida and Hira Jamal were born as conjoined twins born in Karachi, Pakistan. Society shuns them. Their country’s medical facilities cannot help them. Their family is desperate, poor and isolated. Their loving parents pray ceaselessly for a miracle. When Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto took up their cause, the Jamals were convinced their prayers were answered.

Separate Lives is the incredible inside story of the twins arrival in Canada for a pioneering operation that will give them a chance at a new life.

Dr. Harold Hoffman, chief paediatric neurosurgeon at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, had been waiting for this moment all his life. He knew that if anyone could separate these girls, he could. But the preliminary examinations and tests also told him it would be a lot more complicated than anyone could ever have imagined.

Months after the Jamals arrival in Toronto, Dr. Hoffman and his 23 member medical team, enter the operating theatre. The team has planned every stage of the operation with military precision. But Dr. Hoffman finds he must improvise on the operating table to save Nida and Hira’s lives. Then, in a wondrous moment, the girls are separated, becoming two distinct beings.

The operation is a triumph but the aftermath turns tragic. Hira flourishes, but her twin’s vital signs grow weaker day by day. Medicine has given life but it has also taken life.

“This is not just an extraordinary medical story,” says producer/co-director, Robert Lang. “It’s the story of great moral courage. Seeing the astonishing resilience of body and soul through adversity is a wonder and an inspiration.”

Striking an emotional chord with all those who saw it, Separate Lives took medical programming in a new direction – a forerunner of the many non-fiction medical series currently seen on North American TV screens.

CREDITS

Producer
ROBERT LANG

Directors
ROBERT LANG
DEBORAH MAGIDSON

Writer
DEBORAH MAGIDSON

Camera
JOAN HUTTON

Editor
MIKE FULLER