Abby and Brittany Hensel
March 7, 1990
New Germany, Minnesota, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Fifth-grade teachers at Sunnyside Elementary in New Brighton, Minnesota|
Abigail Loraine Hensel and Brittany Lee Hensel (born March 7, 1990) are American conjoined twins. They are dicephalic parapagus twins (having two heads joined to one torso), and are highly symmetric for conjoined twins, giving the appearance of having a single body without marked variation from typical proportions. Each has a heart, stomach, spine, pair of lungs, and spinal cord. Each twin controls one arm and one leg. When they were infants, learning to crawl, walk, and clap required cooperation. They can eat and write separately and simultaneously. Activities such as running, swimming, hair-brushing, playing piano or volleyball, riding a bicycle, or driving a car require coordination.
The twins' lives have been covered in the popular media, including Life magazine and The Oprah Winfrey Show. They were interviewed on The Learning Channel in December 2006, discussing their daily lives and future plans. They starred in their own reality television series, Abby & Brittany, on TLC in 2012.
The twins were born in Carver County, Minnesota, to Patty, a registered nurse, and Mike Hensel, a carpenter and landscaper. They have a younger brother and sister. They were raised in New Germany, Minnesota, attended Mayer Lutheran High School, in Mayer, and graduated from Bethel University, in St. Paul, in 2012.
The twins have a single body with separate heads and necks, a chest that is wider than average, two arms, and two legs. At birth, they had a rudimentary arm between the bases of their necks attached to a shoulder blade at the back. It was removed, leaving the shoulder blade.
Abby'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 nearly two inches shorter than Abby's and Brittany tends to stand and walk on tip-toe which has made her calf muscle significantly larger than Abby's. The continued growth of Abby's spine was surgically halted after Brittany prematurely stopped growing. At age 12, they underwent surgery at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare to correct scoliosis and to expand their chest cavity to prevent breathing trouble.
Each twin 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, so that there is a small amount of overlap at the midline. Stomach aches, however, are felt only by the twin on the opposite side.
They cooperatively use their limbs when both hands or both legs are required. By coordinating their efforts, they walk, run, swim, play volleyball and the piano, and ride a bicycle normally. Together, they can type on a computer keyboard and drive a car. However, Abby, at 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m), is taller and longer of leg than Brittany, who is 4 ft 10 in (1.47 m) and their disparate heights caused difficulty in balancing a Segway, as shown in their 2012 reality series.
The twins have individual organs in the upper part of their body, while most of those at and below 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 corrected scoliosis.
- 2 completely separate spinal cords
- 2 arms (originally 3, but the rudimentary central arm was removed, leaving the central shoulder blade in place)
- 1 broad ribcage with 2 highly fused sternums and traces of bridging ribs. Surgery expanded the pleural cavities.
- 2 breasts
- 2 hearts in a shared circulatory system (nutrition, respiration, and 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, with slightly spastic double peristalsis at the juncture
- 1 large intestine (one colon, rectum, and anus)
- 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, the twins' parents decided not to attempt surgical separation after hearing from doctors that it was unlikely that both would survive the operation. As the twins 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 people.
Dicephalic parapagus twins rarely survive into adulthood.
As teenagers the twins both passed their written and practical driver's license exams separately because, although driving requires coordination between them, state law required that they each be licensed. Abby controls the devices on the right side of the driver's seat; Brittany, those on the left. Together they control the steering wheel. They both graduated from high school in 2008 and began college at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minnesota, majoring in education. They had considered pursuing different concentrations within that major, but the volume of extra coursework was prohibitive. They each graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in 2012.
Some of the twins' clothes are altered by a seamstress so that they have two separate necklines, in order to emphasize their individuality. They usually have separate meals, but sometimes share a single meal for the sake of convenience. For tasks such as responding to email, they type and respond as one, anticipating each other's feelings with little verbal communication between them. Their choice of grammatical person is to use "I" when they agree, and to use their names when their responses differ.
They intensely dislike being stared at or photographed by strangers while going about their private lives. In interviews for the Discovery Channel in 2006 at the age of 16, they 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.
The twins appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on April 8 and 29, 1996. During the same month, they were featured on the cover of Life under the caption "One Body, Two Souls", and their daily lifestyle was described in the article, "The Hensels' Summer". 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 and a 2003 follow-up, Joined at Birth.
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". A UK television special in 2005 was part of the series Extraordinary People. In 2006, Advanced Medical made another documentary, Joined for Life: Abby & Brittany turn 16, that discusses their adolescence, school, social life, and activities such as getting their driver's licenses.
The twins starred in the TLC reality TV show Abby & Brittany that was shown in the US from August to October 2012 It was shown by the BBC in the UK in April and May 2013 and covers the period from their finishing college to starting a part-time teaching job.
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||TLC||Advanced Medical Productions|
|February 19, 2007||Extraordinary People: The Twins Who Share a Body||Five (UK)||One North|
|August 28, 2012||Abby & Brittany||TLC|
- "Sunnyside Staff Directory / Sunnyside Staff Directory". Retrieved April 14, 2021.
- "Conjoined twins 'Abby & Brittany' get their own reality show". Yahoo!TV. Archived from the original on August 9, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
- "Abby Hensel, Brittany Hensel Reality Show: Conjoined Twins Star In TLC's 'Abby And Brittany'". Huffington Post. August 11, 2012.
- Abby and Brittany: Joined for Life, BBC, accessed May 21, 2013
- Abby & Brittany, Episode 3
- "The Twins Who Share a Body". mymultiplesclerosis.co.uk. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
- Fitch, Kimmy. "Hensel Twins Life Update: Inside the Adult Lives of Famous Conjoined Twins", Ask.com, March 18, 2022
- Wallis, Lucy. "Living a conjoined life", BBC News, April 24, 2013
- Wallis, Claudia (March 25, 1996). "The Most Intimate Bond". Time. Archived from the original on February 8, 2005. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
- Harma, M.; Oksuzier, C. (February 2005). "Vaginal delivery of dicephalic parapagus conjoined twins: case report and literature review". Tohoku J. Exp. Med. (205): 182.
- Abby & Brittany, Episode 4
- Hoffman, Kevin (February 28, 2008). "Minnesota's Abby and Brittany Hensel, conjoined twins, make Newsweek". citypages.com. Archived from the original on January 3, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
- Schrobsdorff, Susanna (February 23, 2008). "Reality's Believe It or Not". Newsweek.com. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
- "5th Grade Staff", Sunnyside Elementary. Retrieved March 21, 2023
- "Joined for life - co-joined six-year-old Hensel twins share many body parts: includes a related article on a set of sextuplets". Science World. October 4, 1996.
- "Joined For Life", Advanced Medical Productions, 2002, accessed November 11, 2012
- Joined at Birth, Advanced Medical Productions, 2003, accessed November 11, 2012
- "ABC TV Documentaries: Joined For Life". abc.net.au. March 27, 2003. Archived from the original on October 12, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
- Piccolo, Cynthia M. (August 22, 2004). "Article: Shared Lives: From the types of joining to separation surgeries, the issues around [sic] conjoined twins are varied and complex". Medhunters.com. Archived from the original on August 25, 2004. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
- "Abby & Brittany Hensel". Extraordinary People (television series). UK: Channel 5. November 21, 2007.
- Hutchison, Rob. Joined for Life: Abby & Brittany turn 16, Advanced Medical Productions, 2006, accessed November 11, 2012
- Joined for Life: Abby and Brittany Turn 16 Archived July 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine from Figure8Films.tv
- Extraordinary People: The Twins Who Share a Body from YouTube