Twins on their own are a fascinating medical phenomenon but nothing brings more attention than conjoined twins. For centuries, conjoined twins were medical marvels that stunned the communities around them, and babies born conjoined still often cause a media frenzy. The latest is the birth of conjoined twins Hope and Faith, who share one body with normal limbs, but are joined at the skull with two separate brains and two faces. There have been numerous accounts of conjoined twins who have had separation surgery, a high-risk surgery where the outcomes can be either miraculous or tragic. Indeed, often the risk is too great and conjoined twins will choose to stay connected rather than take the gamble of surgery.
When conjoined siblings prepare to go through separation surgery, it seems that the world waits with baited breath. When they survive the surgery, however, the twins tend to fall out of the spotlight. But when they fail to survive, it is truly a tragedy. In the event that there is no surgery, there is the chance for conjoined twins to live their lives, even marry and have children.
The odds of being borned conjoined are 1 in 40,000. The rate of survival for conjoined twins is between 5 and 25 percent, with many stillborn and many not surviving past a day old. What is particularly remarkable is some of the longer living conjoined twins born in the 1800’s and 1900’s, before the advanced medical care of the modern age. Here we’ve listed ten sets of conjoined twins that have defied the odds and survived to live full lives. After the attention and the frenzy died down, how did these conjoined twins live the rest of their lives? Read on to find out.
10. Abigail and Brittany Hensel (24 years and counting)
Abigail and Brittany Hensel are miraculous twins, born in Minnesota in 1990. From the waist up, they each have an arm, a head, a neck, a heart, and a set of lungs. From the waist down, they share all of their organs. Abigail and Brittany first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show when they were six, and then ten years later they became the center of a documentary on TLC. They are able to live full lives, including getting a driver’s license. While the twins are conjoined, they have separate identities and personalities. When one gets sick, the other can still remain healthy. As they have grown older, people have wondered what would happen if one of them got married or one of them had children. Abigail and Brittany’s parents hope for that future for their girls but are taking it all one day at a time.
9. Lucio and Simplicio Godina (28 years)
This set of conjoined twins hail from the island of Samar in the Philippines, born in 1908. In their case, they were only joined by skin and cartilage, and their conjoining was flexible to the point to where one could lie down while the other was still standing up. They shared no bones or organs and were attached at the buttocks. The twins began working as a sideshow act as children and were discovered in Coney Island at the age of 11. After a few labor law mishaps, the twins were taken in by a wealthy foster father. When the twins were older, they married identical twins. Lucio developed pneumonia in 1936 and later died. An emergency surgery was conducted to separate Lucio, and while initially thought to be a success, he died 12 days later from spinal meningitis.
8. Biddenden Maids (34 years)
Eliza and Mary Chaulkhurst were believed to have been born in the year 1100 and were joined at the shoulders and hips. While their existence has been debated, there are numerous works of art that depict the young women, who are believed to have lived to be 34. Mary had fallen ill and died, and doctors wanted to separate Eliza to save her life, but she declined the surgery and chose to die with her sister, which occurred six hours later. The legend of the twins has since become one of media interest and tourist attractions based on the twins’ legacy have followed.
7. Rosa and Josefa Blazek (43 years)
In 1878, Rosa and Josefa Blazek were born in Bohemia (or the modern day Czech republic) and were joined together at the spine. In fact, Rosa was able to give birth to a son in 1910 named Franz. The birth of Franz made the twins even more of a media sensation besides their acts in sideshows, as a vaginal birth from a conjoined twin was unheard of. The twins continued to perform in their acts, with baby Franz coming along. On March 30, 1922, both twins became ill with jaundice and died.
6. Lori and George Schappell (52 years and counting)
Originally born as Lori and Dori Schappell on September 18th, 1961 in Redding, Pennsylvania, these conjoined twins are attached at the head. Even though they are conjoined, they live very different (and interesting) lives. Dori disliked that her name rhymed with her sister’s and changed it to Reba. But in 2007, Dori/Reba revealed that she identified more as a male; he has changed his name to George and has since lived as a transgendered man. These twins had a rough upbringing and were even institutionalized when they were younger at a facility for those with mental handicaps, even though neither twin was affected intellectually by their condition. Lori and George now live in a two-bedroom apartment and can respect each other’s privacy and separate lives.
5. Millie and Christine McCoy (60 years)
This set of conjoined twins was born in 1851 to two slaves in North Carolina. They were sold at the age of 10 months and 14 months later were sold again to a showman who knew exactly what to do to showcase the girls and make a lot of money. Millie and Christine have been billed under numerous show names such as, “The Carolina Twins”, The Eighth Wonder of the World”, and “The Two-Headed Nightmare”. The girls were freed in 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect; they were taken care of by their former ‘owner’ and performed with the Barnum circus. Millie and Christine died in 1912 from tuberculosis.
4. Daisy and Violet Hilton (61 years)
In the 1930’s, Daisy and Violet Hilton were one of the biggest sideshows and vaudeville acts. Born in 1908, the girls were fused at the pelvis and conjoined at the hips and buttocks, while sharing no major organs. At the young age of 3, the girls joined the show business circuit and became skilled in numerous forms of dancing and musical instruments. They successfully sued their managers in 1931 and were able to go out on their own with their act. All the while, Daisy and Violet had numerous affairs, short marriages, and failed attempts to get a marriage license. Their story has inspired numerous films, as well as a Broadway musical called, “Side Show”. The twins died in 1969 after coming down with the Hong Kong flu and were found dead in their home. It was believed that Daisy died first, and Violet died about 2-4 days later.
3. Chang and Eng Bunker (62 years)
Chang and Eng Bunker were born in 1811 in modern day Thailand (then known as Siam) and were conjoined at the sternum with a piece of cartilage keeping them together. They were known as “The Chinese Twins” in their village, being of Chinese descent. In 1829, they were sold to a British merchant, who took the twins on tour where they became a main attraction. The twins settled down in North Carolina in 1839 and adopted the last name of “Bunker”. Both brothers got married and had children of their own. Chang had 10 and Eng had 11, and they shared a bed with their wives (the bed was built for four). Both twins died on the same day in January of 1974. Chang contracted pneumonia and suffered a stroke, and Eng died three hours later.
2. Donnie and Ronnie Galyon (62 years and counting)
They have been declared by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living set of conjoined twins. Donnie and Ronnie Galyon were born in October of 1951 in Dayton, Ohio. But unfortunately, their education and literacy are limited because they were not allowed to attend school as it was feared that the twins would be a distraction to students. Donnie and Ronnie’s parents had nine children in total, and to help pay the bills their father took the boys on tour as a sideshow attraction to make money. The twins retired from show business, but fell ill in 2009, and now need constant medical attention.
1. Liou Seng-Sen and Liou Tang-Sen (71 years)
Similar to Chang and Eng, these two brothers were conjoined by a band of flesh and cartilage around their chest area. Seng-Sen and Tang-Sen were born in China around 1866. When they were first born, their mother was frightened and attempted to separate them, but stopped when she realized she could kill them by doing so. Their mother died two years later, and their father raised the twins. The boys soon entered the show business circuit as “The Korean Twins” because the United States had a ban on Chinese immigrants from entering the country. They eventually dropped off from the media circuit, but it was reported that one of them came down with bronchitis and was dying. In 1957, the Union Medical College in Beijing claimed to have successfully separated the twins when the one with bronchitis was quickly dying.