Conjoined twins, also known as "Siamese Twins" in honor of famous twins Chang and Eng Bunker, are extremely rare. Most do not survive until birth.Those who do tend to have skeletal problems related to the way that they are joined and the posture this forces them to assume. They may also have problems with shared or malformed organs.
Many famous conjoined twins went into show business, either in sideshows (Chang and Eng Bunker) or in Vaudeville (Daisy and Violet Hilton). Modern conjoined twins, such as the Hensel twins, occasionally may appear on talk shows, but no longer take up the carnival life because of laws against employing people with disabilities in such jobs. Conjoined twins, like all people, react individually to their situations; contrary to popular belief, not all conjoined twins desire to be separated.
A more common form of conjoined twinning is the parasitic twin, in which one twin is fairly normal and the other is underdeveloped. Again, for much of history these twins were in demand as "human oddities." Frank Lentini, whose parasitic twin manifested as a third leg, and Betty Lou Williams, who had an entire parasitic twin growing from her waist, are two of the most famous. With modern surgery, most parasitic twins are now removed surgically.
With modern surgical techniques, many parents choose to have conjoined twins separated. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop pioneered such surgery. Because of the risk that one or both twins will die, separation surgery is controversial. Those who favor the surgery argue that it gives the surviving child/children a greater chance for a normal life. Opponents argue that we should accept the children as they are and not risk their lives trying to make them fit our idea of "normalcy." Parents have to weigh the risks and benefits when deciding if their twins should be separated.
Surgery to separate conjoined twins is typically performed in infancy and occasionally on toddlers. It is considered too risky to attempt to separate older children or adults.
Because abortion kills many of the conjoined twins who do not miscarry naturally, and so many of the surviving twins are surgically separated, twins living a conjoined life are very rare indeed. I have therefore provided links to conjoined and parasitic twins, past and present.
Abby and Britty are dicephalic twins -- each girl has her own head but they share a single body. The late Jim McMahon was proud to have aborted a pair of dicephalic twins.
They couldn't act, but they sang beautifully, and their lives inspired a movie and a Broadway show.
Manchester Twins "Jodie" and "Mary"
Born in August, 2000, the twins launched a worldwide debate about whether one twin should be sacrificed in an attempt to save the other.
Joined from the chest down, the brothers did not care for the sideshow life and retired to Italy.
Studies of Conjoined Twins
Background and two cases of successfully separated twins.
Case 34: Conjoined
Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia and Conjoined
of Conjoined Twins
Information aimed at helping parents understand the various kinds of conjoined twinning.
Conjoined Twins Celebrate
Five Years of Separation
Tiesha and Iesha Turner were born in 1991.
Twins, Successfully Separated, Return Home
Twin girls separated at seven months.
Twins Suffer Post-Surgery Setback
A series of operations to separate girls joined at the head is complicated by one twin's siezures.
Say Conjoined Twins Share Liver
Efforts to help conjoined little girls born to uninsured parents in Mexico.
Separate Twins Joined at Birth
A successful surgery for two little girls.
Neurosurgeon Separates Zambian Siamese Twins
Computer technology allows doctor to "rehearse" surgery.
The original "Siamese Twins," Chang and Eng Bunker.
Give Twins Chance at Life
A visitor informs me that local news is good -- the twins do each have a heart and lungs. Put this family on your prayer list.
Conjoined Twins Born With Only Two Legs
A rare birth in California in 1998. Gabrielle and Micheala were born by c-section, surgery debated.
Little girls in critical condition preparing for surgery.
A transcript of a NOVA episode about surgery to separate conjoined twins.
of Conjoined Twins
A virtual museum tour looking at such famous twins as Chang and Eng and Millie/Christine.
Celebrate Successful Surgery
Joined at birth, these little girls, Bethany and Hannah Rainey, are now separated and walking on prosthetic legs.
Types of Conjoined
Terminology and frequency of different conjoined twins. Includes photos of three museum exhibits of rare conjoined twins.
For more information on congenital conditions:
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