Babies, especially twins, come into this world every day, but you don’t always hear about them in the news. But in 1990, twins Brittany and Abigail Hensel made the news, and there was a reasonable explanation for that. Conjoined twins Brittany and Abigail were born with dicephalic parapagus, a rare condition, which meant they shared a single body and were fused at the torso. But the girls had separate heads. Medically speaking, how unique is that?
One in approximately 189,000 births will likely result in conjoined twins, and from that number, eleven percent will be born with dicephalic parapagus. Unfortunately, only percent of those born with this condition make it. But these twins survived and have continued to function efficiently. They share two esophagi, two, stomachs, three kidneys, two gallbladders, two hearts, two spines, four lungs, one liver, a ribcage, and they also share a circulatory system, and they partially share their nervous systems. But do they share anything below the waist?
All of their organs from the waist down are shared, and that includes their bladder, intestine, and reproductive organs. Their condition is the rarest and it came as a result of a fertilized egg that didn’t separate properly while in the womb. As children, they had a third arm that was underdeveloped, removed from their chest. At 12, more surgeries were performed to fix scoliosis and expand their chest cavity to prevent issues with breathing further down the line. But this didn’t slow the twins down…
You may ask yourself how they manage to walk, and ironically, they don’t have any issues with that. Each twin controls their half of their body; an arm and a leg each. When they were young, they figured out how to clap, crawl, and walk together in perfect harmony, much to the amazement of everyone they knew. Doctors were baffled by their abilities to coordinate, especially when they played the piano, or swam together, or even rode a bike together. But obviously, there are some subtle differences.
Abby is 5’2″, while Brittany is 4’10”. This means that in order to maintain the right balance, Brittany must stand on tiptoe to ensure they remain balanced while walking. As they got older, their personalities grew too. Abby isn’t afraid of heights, but Brittany is. While Abby loves science and math, Brittany loves the arts. They also have a different reaction to coffee. Brittany’s heartbeat rises after a couple of cups of coffee, but Abby feels nothing. But what was growing up with a conjoined twin like for these two?
The twins’ perseverance caught the eye of the media. In fact, when they were six, the twins appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” From there, they went on to appear on the cover of Life Magazine. Then they avoid the spotlight for a bit. But they came to an agreement with TLC to appear in a documentary when they were 16. Their show, called “Abby and Brittany,” aired on August 28, 2012. But what else was in store for them at 16?
Like typical teenagers, the girls wanted to drive, so they took their driving test, and passed using their shared coordination to make it work. Their mom, Patty was worried, but then again, that’s what moms do. She even asked: “I don’t know what would happen if they got pulled over for speeding. Would they each get a ticket or just Abby because it’s her foot on the accelerator?” Let’s just hope that neither of them have to deal with this situation!
Finding the right clothes to wear has been difficult for these two, especially since the twins had their own unique sort of style. Compromising can be tough. While Abby prefers bright and colorful outfits, Brittany prefers pearls and neutral colors. But Abby is known for being the most outspoken and has ultimately won every style war she had with her sister. Abby also likes going out more, while Brittany considers herself to be more of a “homebody.”
They graduated from high school with flying colors, and then attended Bethel University where they both pursued a Bachelor of Arts degrees in education. They had considered specializing in different teaching fields but felt that the extra coursework would have been tough for them to deal with. However, now, the twins have a teaching license each, but when it comes to money, there is one practical difference that these two faced…
Abby told the BBC: “Obviously right away we understand that we are going to get one salary because we’re doing the job of one person. As maybe experience comes in we’d like to negotiate a little bit, considering we have two degrees and because we are able to give two different perspectives or teach in two different ways.” Brittany added, “One can be teaching and one can be monitoring and answering questions. So in that sense we can do more than one person.”
The twins said, “We are fourth- and fifth-grade math specialists, so we’ll have two classes of math. It’s part time, which is nice, so we’ll be kind of transitioning into the teaching world.” Their mom, Patty, always knew that teaching was the right choice for them. “They’ve just always had a knack with kids, and kids have always been kind of drawn to them,” she explained.“Maybe it started by curiosity, but then once their simple questions are answered they still are just drawn to Ab and Brit.”
175 people applied for the job, so they had some serious competition. But Paul Good, the school principal, wanted to hire the twins. “After our interview, I showed the girls out the door,” Good explained. “I came back in the room and before I even sat back down one of the people said, ‘Run after them, hire them, give them the job.’” But for the school, this was a learning experience too…
“I think after anyone sits with these exceptional young women, I think any of their concerns will just vanish,” explained Good. To be on the safe side, the school prepared to introduce the conjoined twins as teachers within their community. “What we’ve done is we’ve sent out letters and will reintroduce the Hensels again during open house,” said Good. And this seemed to work, but the twins still had some obstacles they had to face.
The twins had to deal with people wondering about their personal lives, which they preferred to keep private. The twins even described one rumor a “dumb joke” when they heard that Brittany was engaged. In addition, they also dealt with unwanted attention like being gawked at. They also had to face people taking photographs when they walked into confined areas, particularly crowded rooms. But would they ever choose to separate themselves?
A surgery to separate conjoined twins can extremely delicate and dangerous. Brittany and Abby’s parents didn’t want to risk their daughters’ lives, especially since one of the twins would likely not have survived. Bringing the topic of separation up upsets the twins because they couldn’t imagine life without the other. Meanwhile, their mom, Patty, hopes that her daughters’ lives are filled with happiness and health, which is something all parents hope for their kids. Meanwhile, the twins take a day at a time. But as teachers, and as women, they’ve proven to be worthy role models for kids, particularly those dealing with challenges.