Who are Abby and Brittany Hensel?
Abby Loraine and Brittany Lee Hensel are famous conjoined twins born in March 1990 in New Germany, Minnesota, USA. They are dicephalic parapagus twins, meaning that they have two heads joined to a single torso. Abby and Brittany each have a spinal cord, pair of lungs, spine, stomach, and heart; each are in control of one arm and one leg.
During their early years, Abby and Brittany had to work together to walk, crawl and clap in a coordinated way. Although they can eat and write separately or simultaneously as they wish, other activities such a driving a car, playing an instrument, or riding a bicycle aren’t so easy. Many news outlets such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Learning Channel” followed the twins’ lives when they were younger, and TLC gave them their own reality series – “Abby & Brittany”.
Abby and Brittany have been supported over the years by their parents Patty and Mike Hensel; their mother is a registered nurse, whereas their father is a landscaper and carpenter. They also have two younger siblings who have stayed out of the spotlight. Upon matriculating from Mayer Lutheran High School, the twins began studying at St. Paul’s Bethel University and graduated in 2012.
Mike and Patty decided not to surgically separate the twins, as they had been told by doctors that there was little chance of both surviving the operation. The parents were happy with their decision, arguing that their daughters had better quality of life as conjoined people.
Although Abby and Brittany are well into their 30s by now, dicephalic parapagus twins rarely reach adulthood. However, the tenacious sisters have so far defied all odds and live as normal a life as possible. As teenagers, they both passed their practical and written driver’s license exams separately, as was required by state law. To drive, Abby controls the devices to the right side of the driver’s seat, and Brittany the devices on the left side.
In their college years, the twins decided to major in education, and even thought about pursuing different concentrations. However, they decided against it due to the extra coursework, and both graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees four years later.
Abby and Brittany have some of their clothes altered by a seamstress who adds separate necklines to their shirts. Normally they eat separate meals, but can also share when it’s more convenient to do so. The twins respond to emails as one, and don’t need much verbal communication between them to do so, as they are exceptionally in tune with each other’s feelings. When they agree on something, they say “I”, using their names when they don’t.
In 2006, Abby and Brittany were interviewed by the Discovery Channel and expressed their desire to date, marry, and have children one day, although they didn’t delve into the dynamics of the hypothetical future relationship. In later years, the twins have faded out of the spotlight somewhat, but news outlets state that they have been teaching since 2013, and are currently working at Sunnyside Elementary in New Brighton, Minnesota.
Also referred to as Siamese twins, conjoined twins are those joined in utero. The rare phenomenon can be observed from as few as 1 in 189,000 births, although the incidence is higher in Africa and Southwest Asia. Interestingly, most live births of conjoined twins are female; approximately half of the total births are stillborn, and one-third die within 24 hours.
There are two theories behind the origins of conjoined twins, with fission – in which the fertilized egg splits partially – being the most widely accepted. The second theory, fusion, claims that the fertilized egg separates but stem cells find similar cells on the other twin, thus fusing them together. Conjoined twins share the same placenta, chorion, and amniotic sac in utero.
CHANG – ENG BUNKER: THE SIAMESE TWINSChang and Eng were the world's most famous conjoined twins. They were born in…
Some famous conjoined twins include Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in 1811 in Thailand, travelled the world for many years, and were named The Siamese Twins, thus coining the popular phrase. The brothers were joined at the torso and had fused livers, meaning that in modern times they could easily have been separated.
Chang and Eng died of natural causes in 1874, when there still wasn’t much available information about their condition, as it was considered a rarity. Prior to their deaths, they toured the world as entertainers, settled in North Carolina, and had over 20 children with two sisters they married.
The most common types of conjoined twins are thoraco-omphalopagus twins, who make up 28% of cases. These twins have two bodies which are fused from the upper chest to the lower chest; they typically share a heart and may also share part of the digestive system or liver. The rarest include syncephalus twins, which have one head and a single face but two bodies and four ears, and rachipagus twins, which are joined along the back of their bodies. There are also very few confirmed cases of conjoined triplets, as they have an extremely low survival rate.
Depending on the point of attachment and shared internal parts, separating conjoined twins ranges from easy to extremely difficult. In most cases, surgical separation is risky and life-threatening and can result in the death of one or both of the twins, especially if they share a vital organ or are joined at the head. Due to the risks involved, the ethics of surgical separation are a bone of contention in the medical world. A study by Alice Dreger of Northwestern University found that conjoined twins who do not separate enjoy a higher quality of life than is commonly supposed, which has been the case for Abby and Brittany.
The first case of conjoined twins being separated was recorded in the 10th century, and occurred in the Byzantine Empire. One of the twins had already died, and the town’s doctors attempted to separate it from its surviving twin. Although the surviving twin died just three days after the separation, the surgery was considered successful for its time, and proved that separation could be done.
Several centuries later, the second case of separating conjoined twins was recorded in 17th-century Germany. The operation was performed by Johannes Fatio and was the first one of its kind to be successful. Three decades later, the famous neurosurgeon Harold Voris and his team at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital successfully separated craniopagus twins who were conjoined at the head. Although both twins survived the operation, one of them was permanently impaired, while the twin developed as normal.
Bertram Katz and his team made history in 1957 by successfully separating for the first time, conjoined twins who shared a vital organ. The twins in question were omphalopagus twins John and James Freeman – Johnny and Jimmy – and were one year old at the time of the operation. Despite sharing a liver, the boys had separate hearts and were successfully separated by Bertram at Youngstown, Ohio’s North Side Hospital. As the family couldn’t pay for the operation, it was funded by the Ohio Crippled Children’s Service Society.
Yet another landmark operation took place in Singapore in 2001. The craniopagus twins Ganga and Jamuna Shreshta, were born in Nepal in 2000. Neurosurgeons Keith Goh and Chumpon Chan led the team operating on the girls; sadly, Ganga suffered brain damage as a result of the operation, and Jamuna was unable to walk. Although Jamuna is believed to be alive, Ganga died seven years later after a severe chest infection.
The controversial case of Rose and Grace Attard, conjoined twins born in Malta, was also a hot topic of discussion in 2000. The twins, who were attached at the spine and lower abdomen, were separated by a court order despite their parents’ religious objections. The surgery was carried out at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, Rngland in November 2000 and was so controversial because the weaker twin, Rose, would die after the procedure, as her lungs and heart depended on Grace’s. The death of Rose was, however, considered necessary from a medical standpoint, because if the operation hadn’t taken place, both twins would’ve died.
Famous Conjoined Twins
Although Abby and Brittany are the most famous conjoined twins in the world, Lori and George Schappell are also well-known thanks to their unique lifestyles. Lori and George – originally named Dori – were born in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania in September 1961 and are craniopagus twins who share 30% of their brain matter.
Lori and Dori grew up in an institution in their home state, and were released in their 20s. Disliking the fact that their names rhymed, Dori began going by the name Reba, paying homage to his favorite singer Reba McEntire. In 2006, he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; a year later, he permanently changed his name to George and declared that he identified as male.
George began singing after changing his name to Reba, and even won an L.A Music Award for Best New Country Artist in 1997. Some of the countries where he’s performed include Japan and Germany, and he also sang “Fear of Being Alone” on the soundtrack of “Stuck on You”, a fictitious comedy film about conjoined twins. George is clearly the more dominant twin, as Lori must arrange her job around his singing commitments, and has even paid to attend his concerts. While George is performing, Lori makes herself as “invisible” as possible so as not to distract from his performance.
Jerry Springer * Lori & Dori * twins conjoined at the head sing us a song https://t.co/IO1KY8gd4X
— The Bonfire (@TheBonfireSXM) August 26, 2021
The twins have also given interviews on various talk shows and appeared in documentaries, making their TV debut in an episode of “Jerry Springer”. In September 1997, they appeared in “The Unexplained: The Twin Connection”, and a year later, they starred in their own documentary named “Face to Face: The Schappell Twins”. Lori and George also put their acting skills to the test in an episode of “Nip/Tuck”, in which they portrayed conjoined twins named Raven and Rose Rosenberg.
Lori and George manage to lead somewhat independent lives in their two-bedroom apartment, with both having their private space. They believe in respecting each other’s privacy when it comes to relationships, work, and recreation. Lori has been in several relationships, and was engaged, but tragically lost her fiancé in a motorbike accident. Meanwhile, George has designed a mobility aid for dogs, a specialized wheelchair, and more support equipment for those who suffer from physical disabilities. Their last media appearance came in 2007, with the TV documentary “Inside Extraordinary Humans: Science of Conjoined Twins”.
Ronnie and Donnie Galyon hold the record for the longest-lived conjoined twins in history, having surpassed Chang and Eng Bunker. In 2009, they were also declared the oldest conjoined twins in the world by the Guinness World Records. Ronnie and Donnie were born in October 1951 in Dayton, Ohio, and passed away in July 2020.
Ronnie and Donnie’s mother, Eileen, wasn’t even expecting twins. The brothers shared organs and were joined from the sternum to the groin; after staying at St. Elizabeth Hospital for two years, doctors determined that there was no safe way to separate them. As the twins were considered a distraction by local schools, the brothers received no formal education, and were functionally illiterate for their whole lives. It’s also been said that Eileen abandoned the boys, and left them to the care of their father, Wesley.
As Wesley had nine children to feed and clothe, he took the twins on the road and advertised them as a sideshow attraction. Ronnie and Donnie were exhibited in sideshows in Latin America and the States, becoming celebrities and supporting their large family with their income. After three decades in the entertainment industry, the brothers retired in 1991 and moved into their first independent home, which they purchased with their earnings. Thanks to a custom double wheelchair, they could lead relatively normal lives, and be active in their community.
Despite retiring from showbiz, Ronnie and Donnie frequently appeared in TV documentaries, and also discussed their life experiences in an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show”. In 2009, the twins’ health took a turn for the worst when Ronnie developed a life-threatening lung infection. They were hospitalized, and required round-the-clock care when they returned home. The local community rallied around the duo, donating money and building a special addition to their younger brother Jim’s home, so that he could take care of them with help from his wife Mary.
“The World’s Oldest Conjoined Twins Move Home” premiered on TLC in December 2010, and documented Ronnie and Donnie’s recovery, their return to the community, and the building process to make Jim’s home handicap accessible. Ten years later, the twins died of congestive heart failure, surrounded by their nearest and dearest, and having spent the last few weeks of their lives in a hospice.