Abigail and Brittany Hensel

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Abigail Hensel
Brittany Hensel
Born Abigail Loraine Hensel
Brittany Lee Hensel

(1990-03-07) March 7, 1990 (age 24)
Carver County, Minnesota
Residence St. Paul, Minnesota, US
Nationality American
Education

Lutheran High School in Mayer, Minnesota

Bethel University
Home town New Germany, Minnesota, US
Parents Patty and Mike Hensel
Relatives Dakota (brother)
Morgan (sister)

Abigail Loraine Hensel and Brittany Lee Hensel (born March 7, 1990) are dicephalic parapagus twins, meaning that they are conjoined twins, each of whom 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 has 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 separate actions that coordinate with the other.

Despite the curiosity that their condition has generated, the Hensel twins received relatively little press attention until adulthood. 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. They starred in their own Abby & Brittany reality series on TLC.[1][2]

Background

Abigail and Brittany were born in Carver County, Minnesota, the daughters of Patty, a registered nurse, and Mike Hensel, a carpenter and landscaper. They have a younger brother, Dakota (whose nickname is Koty) as well as younger sister, Morgan. Abigail and Brittany also have a dog, Sadie. They were raised in New Germany and attended Lutheran High School in Mayer, Minnesota.

Physiology

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 tilts laterally at about 15 degrees to the left, causing her to appear shorter even when seated. Brittany's leg is in fact nearly two inches shorter than Abigail's leg; and Brittany tends to stand and walk on tip-toe which has given her a significantly larger calf muscle than Abigail.[3] The continued growth of Abigail's spine was surgically halted after Brittany prematurely stopped growing.[4] 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.[5]

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. Stomachaches however are felt only by the twin on the opposite side.[3] 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. However, their disparate heights (Abby, 5'2", is taller and longer of leg than Brittany, 4'10")[6] led to difficulty in balancing a Segway, as shown in their 2012 reality series.[7]

Organ distribution

Abigail and Brittany have individual organs in the upper part of their body, while most of them located at or below the level of the navel are shared, the exception being the spinal cord.[8]

Separation

Upon their birth, their parents rejected the option to attempt surgical separation after hearing from doctors that it was not likely that both twins would survive the operation. As they grew and learned to walk and develop other skills, their 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.[9]

Adulthood

The Hensel twins both successfully passed their driver's license exams, both the written and driving tests. They had to take the tests twice, once for each twin. Abigail controls the devices located to the right of the driver's seat; Brittany, those on the left; together they control the steering wheel.

They both graduated from high school in 2008. They began college at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, majoring in education. The pair had considered pursuing different concentrations within that major, but the volume of extra coursework was prohibitive.[10] They graduated with bachelors of arts degrees in 2012.[11]

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 intensely dislike being stared at or photographed by strangers while going about their private lives.[12] In interviews for the Discovery Channel in 2006, the girls, then 16, said that they hoped to date, get married, and have children. They also stated that they hoped that by providing some information about themselves, they would be able to lead otherwise fairly typical social lives.[12][13]

Media appearances

They 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 entitled "The Hensels' Summer".[14] Life followed up with another story in September 1998. In 2002, they appeared in Joined for Life, a TV documentary by Advanced Medical Productions, distributed on the Discovery Health Channel[15] and a 2003 follow-up, Joined at Birth.[16] In 2003, an updated story of them at age 11 (filmed in 2001) was published in Time and again in Life. ABC TV also did a documentary called "Joined For Life".[17][18] In 2006, Advanced Medical made another documentary, Joined for Life: Abby & Brittany turn 16,[19] that discusses the girls' adolescence, school and social life and activities such as getting their driver's licenses.[9] A UK television special followed in 2005 as part of the series Extraordinary People.[20] The twins starred in the reality TV show Abby & Brittany that started in August 2012.[1] Abby and Brittany: Joined for Life was shown by the BBC in the UK in May 2013, and covers the period from their finishing college to starting a part-time teaching job.[21]

Filmography

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[22] The Learning Channel Advanced Medical Productions
February 19, 2007 Extraordinary People: The Twins Who Share a Body[23] Five (UK) One North
August 28, 2012 Abby & Brittany The Learning Channel

References

  1. ^ a b "Conjoined twins 'Abby & Brittany' get their own reality show". Yahoo!TV. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  2. ^ Abby Hensel, Brittany Hensel Reality Show: Conjoined Twins Star In TLC's 'Abby And Brittany'
  3. ^ a b Discussed in episode 3 of their reality series.
  4. ^ Discussed in episode 3 of their reality series
  5. ^ "The Twins Who Share a Body". Mymultiplesclerosis.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  6. ^ Wallis, Lucy. "Living a conjoined life", BBC News, 24 April 2013
  7. ^ Documented and discussed in episode 3 of their reality series.
  8. ^ "Abigail and Brittany Hensel: an extraordinary bond | Mail Online". London: Dailymail.co.uk. 2006-12-31. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  9. ^ a b Wallis, Claudia (1996-03-25). "The Most Intimate Bond". TIME. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  10. ^ Discussed in episode 4 of their reality series.
  11. ^ Documented in episode 4 of their reality series.
  12. ^ a b Hoffman, Kevin (2008-02-28). "Minnesota's Abby and Brittany Hensel, conjoined twins, make Newsweek - Minneapolis News - The Blotter". Blogs.citypages.com. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  13. ^ Susanna Schrobsdorff (2008-02-23). "Reality’s Believe It or Not". Newsweek.com. Retrieved May 4, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Joined for life - co-joined six-year-old Hensel twins share many body parts: includes a related article on a set of sextuplets - Cover Story | Science World". Find Articles. 1996-10-04. 
  15. ^ "Joined For Life", Advanced Medical Productions, 2002, accessed November 11, 2012
  16. ^ Joined at Birth, Advanced Medical Productions, 2003, accessed November 11, 2012
  17. ^ "ABC TV Documentaries: Joined For Life". Abc.net.au. 2003-03-27. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  18. ^ Piccolo, Cynthia M. (August 22, 2004). "Article: Shared Lives: From the types of joining to separation surgeries, the issues around conjoined twins are varied and complex. - MedHunters". Medhunters.com. Archived from the original on August 25, 2004. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  19. ^ Hutchison, Rob. Joined for Life: Abby & Brittany turn 16, Advanced Medical Productions, 2006, accessed November 11, 2012
  20. ^ Channel 5 (UK TV) television program Extraordinary People, 9-10 pm Wednesday 21 November 2007
  21. ^ Abby and Brittany: Joined for Life, accessed 21 May 2013
  22. ^ Joined for Life: Abby and Brittany Turn 16 from Figure8Films.tv
  23. ^ Extraordinary People: The Twins Who Share a Body from YouTube

External links