|Abigail and Brittany Hensel|
Abigail "Abby" Loraine Hensel and Brittany "Britty" Lee Hensel (born March 7, 1990) are dicephalic parapagus twins, meaning that they are conjoined twins of whom each has a separate head, but whose bodies are joined. They are highly symmetric, giving the appearance of having just a single body with little variation from normal proportion. In fact, several vital organs are doubled up, each twin having a separate heart, stomach, spine and spinal cord.
Each twin controls her half of their body, operating one of the arms and one of the legs. This means that as infants, the initial learning of physical processes that required bodily coordination, such as clapping, crawling, and walking required the cooperation of both children. While each is able to eat and write separately and simultaneously, activities such as running and swimming must be coordinated and alternate symmetrically. Other activities as diverse as brushing hair and driving a car require that each twin perform a sequence of quite separate actions that coordinate with the other.
Despite the curiosity that their condition has generated, the Hensel twins have managed to live private lives with relatively little press attention. At the age of 16, they gave an interview on The Learning Channel on December 17, 2006, in which they discussed aspects of their daily lives and plans for the future.
Abigail and Brittany Hensel were born in Carver County, Minnesota, the daughters of Patty, a registered nurse, and Mike Hensel, a carpenter and landscaper. The twins have a younger brother named Dakota, or Koty for short, a younger sister named Morgan, and a dog named Sadie. They were raised in New Germany and attended Lutheran High School in Mayer, Minnesota.
The Hensel twins have a single body with separate heads and necks, a chest that is wider than normal, two arms and two legs. At birth they had a rudimentary arm attached to a shoulder blade at the back. The arm was removed, leaving the shoulder blade.
Abigail's head tilts laterally outward about 5 degrees to the right while Brittany's head tilts laterally at about 15 degrees to the left, causing Brittany to appear shorter. At age 12, they underwent surgery at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare to correct scoliosis and to expand their chest cavity to prevent future difficulties with breathing.
Each of the twins manages one side of their conjoined body. The sense of touch of each is restricted to her body half; this shades off at the midsagittal plane such that there is a small amount of overlap at the midline. They are effective in cooperatively using their limbs when both hands or both legs are required. By coordinating their efforts, they are able to walk, run, swim and ride a bicycle normally — all tasks that they learned at a normal speed. Together, they can type on a computer keyboard at a normal speed and drive a car.
Abigail and Brittany have individual organs in the upper part of their body while most of the organs located at or below the level of the navel are shared, the exception being the spinal cord.
- 2 heads
- 2 spines merging at the coccyx, and joined at the thorax by sections of ribs. Surgery was employed to correct scoliosis
- 2 completely separate spinal cords
- 2 arms (originally 3, but rudimentary central arm was surgically removed, leaving central shoulder blade in place)
- 1 broad ribcage with 2 highly fused sternums and traces of bridging ribs. Surgery was employed to expand the pleural cavities
- 2 breasts
- 2 hearts in a shared circulatory system (nutrition, respiration, medicine taken by either affects both)
- 4 lungs with the medial lungs moderately fused, not involving Brittany's upper right lobe; three pleural cavities
- 1 diaphragm with well-coordinated involuntary breathing, slight central defect
- 2 stomachs
- 2 gallbladders
- 1 liver, enlarged and elongated right lobe
- Y-shaped small intestine which experiences a slightly spastic double peristalsis at the juncture
- 1 large intestine with one colon
- 3 kidneys: 2 left, 1 right
- 1 bladder
- 1 set of reproductive organs
- 2 separate half-sacrums, which converge distally
- 1 slightly broad pelvis
- 2 legs
Upon their birth, their parents rejected the option to attempt surgical separation after hearing from doctors that it was not likely that both girls would survive the operation. As the girls grew and learned to walk and develop other skills, the parents confirmed their decision against separation, arguing that the quality of life for the surviving twin or twins living separately would be less than their quality of life as conjoined beings.
The Hensel twins both successfully passed their drivers license exams, both the written and driving tests. They had to take the tests twice, once for each twin. Abby controls the pedals, radio, heat, defogger, and other devices located to the right of the driver's seat, while Brittany controls the turn signal and lights; together, they control the steering wheel.
In conversation, the twins are clearly distinct persons, with distinct likes and dislikes. Their preferences in food, clothing color, etc. differ. Some of their clothes are altered by their seamstress so that they have two separate necklines in order to emphasize their individuality. They will usually have separate meals, but sometimes will share a single meal for the sake of convenience (e.g., each takes a bite of the same hamburger). Abigail is better at mathematics and Brittany is better at writing. For tasks such as responding to e-mail, they type and respond as one, anticipating each other's feelings with little verbal communication between them. In such cases as the latter, their choice of grammatical person is to use the first person singular out of habit when they agree, but when their responses do differ, they use their names in the third person singular.
There is some concern about their ability to have continued good health because only four known sets of conjoined twins who share an undivided torso and two legs have ever survived into adulthood, and most have congenital heart defects or other organ anomalies. None have shown up in the Hensels' case. They have so far had no desire to make themselves available for any medical studies. They intend to make a rather limited number of media appearances in the future, primarily just to appease the world's curiosity and to reduce the number of people who might otherwise be taken aback by their unusual body configuration. They intensely dislike being stared at or photographed by strangers while going about their private lives. They expect to date, get married, and have children. They hope that by providing some information about themselves they will be able to lead otherwise fairly typical social lives as together they continue to make new friends.
In April 2006, they appeared in Joined for Life, a documentary produced by Advanced Medical, distributed on the Discovery Health Channel. They also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 8 and April 29, 1996. In April 1996, the twins were featured on the cover of Life under the caption "One Body, Two Souls", and their daily lifestyle was depicted in the corresponding article titled The Hensels' Summer. Life followed up with another story in September 1998. In 2003, an updated story of them at age 11 (filmed in 2001) was published in Time and again in Life. They appeared in a follow-up documentary on The Learning Channel on December 17, 2006 filmed around the time of their 16th birthday, in which they discuss dealing with puberty and getting their driver's licenses. In the summer of 2006, they had a vacation in Texas at the home of a family whose dicephalus twin girls had died at a few hours old.
Documentaries and other television appearances include:
|First aired||Title||Distributor||Produced by|
|April 8, 1996||The Oprah Winfrey Show||King World Productions||Harpo Productions|
|March 27, 2003||Joined for Life||Discovery Channel||Advanced Medical Productions, American Broadcasting Company|
|December 17, 2006||Joined for Life: Abby and Brittany Turn 16||The Learning Channel||Advanced Medical Productions|
|February 19, 2007||Extraordinary People: The Twins Who Share a Body||Five (UK)||One North|
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- Channel 5 (UK TV) television program Extraordinary People, 9-10 pm Wednesday 21 November 2007
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