Amazing Story: Abigail and Brittany Hensel, the ‘two headed girl’

Abigail “Abby” Loraine Hensel and Brittany “Britty” Lee Hensel (born March 7, 1990, Carver County, Minnesota, United States), are highly symmetric dicephalic parapagus conjoined twins, and further, tribrachius, bipedus. They have two spines and separate half-sacrums, which converge distally within a slightly broad pelvis. They each control and sense their corresponding arm and leg; a third, rudimentary central arm was amputated in infancy.

Abigail and Brittany Hensel’s parents are Patty, a registered nurse, and Mike Hensel, a carpenter and landscaper. The twins have a younger brother named Dakota, or Koty for short, and a younger sister named Morgan. Brittany’s head is about 15 degrees laterally outward, while Abby’s head tilts laterally outward about 5 degrees, causing Brittany to appear to be of slightly less stature. They were raised in New Germany, Minnesota and attended Lutheran High School affiliated with the Missouri Synod in Mayer, Minnesota. 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 and they are quite ambidextrous and coordinated in both their arms and legs when both hands or both legs are required. By coordinating their efforts, they are able to walk, run and ride a bicycle normally — all tasks that they learned at a normal speed. They each write with their corresponding hand. Together, they can type on a computer keyboard at a normal speed. Their sense of touch is partitioned to their own body half, which shades off at the midsagittal plane such that there is a small amount of overlap at their midline. They enjoy hobbies and sports including volleyball, kickball, swimming, basketball, and cycling. They also play the piano and are avid computer users. They enjoy softball, digital photography, the internet, social networking, and talking on the telephone. When they go to the cinema, they pay for two tickets.

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.

Abigail and Brittany

Abigail and Brittany

They both successfully passed their driver’s license exam, both the written and driving tests. They had to take the tests twice, once for each twin. Abby controls the pedals, radio, heat, defogger etc., Brittany controls the turn signal and lights and together they control the steering wheel. They also want to visit the UK, so they can both have a chance to use their opposite controls.

They both graduated from high school in 2008. They began college at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

In conversation, they are clearly distinct persons, with distinct likes and dislikes. Despite sharing a body, the twins’ 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 dislike intensely 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.

Inventory of organ distribution

Most of Abigail’s and Brittany’s shared organs are located at or below the level of the navel and their merging coccyx.

* 2 heads
* 2 completely separate spinal cords
* 2 spines with ribs bridging the two columns
* 2 arms (originally 3, but rudimentary central arm was surgically removed, leaving central shoulder blade in place)
* 1 broad ribcage, with surgery to correct scoliosis and expand the pleural cavities
* 2 breasts
* 2 highly fused sternums, traces of bridging ribs
* 4 lungs (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 hearts in a shared circulatory system (nutrition, respiration, medicine taken by either affects both)
* 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
* 2 left kidneys, 1 right kidney
* 1 bladder
* 1 set of reproductive organs
* 2 separate half-sacrums, which converge distally
* 1 slightly broad pelvis
* 2 legs

Comments
carmen

this is just amazing

Rosa

They are so amazing… their lives are not easy and you would think they would have issues.. more issues than other teenagers but they don´t seem to. They are positive and seem to just take each day as it comes… brilliant.

stephanie

I saw the documentary on TLC on May 3, 2009. I was curious how the girls are now doing being in college and what they decided on? Fashion seemed to be a primary desire for both.

mary

I think you girls are great. I had a set of twins in 1989. I have aboy name zac and the girls name is brittany. my mom also had two sets of twins. two boys in 1959 and two girls in 1961. I think whatever you girls can do, go and do it. Good luck in school and be happy. I also have a older boy, Justin. good luck girls

Marcus

I wish people would refrain from calling them a “two headed girl” they are 2 conjoint girls, 2 souls, 2 personalities, 2 minds

pie

As far as sex goes, I guess it’s going to be a three-some, which is not such a bad thing after all.

Diane

@pie… that’s so wrong

Waffle

@Marcus
I think it’s cute. That they’re two people is kind of implicit in ‘two headed’, because a head is a person.

I like the phrase because it’s not entirely accurate, it’s casual, it implies acceptance and normality, like a two-headed girl is an everyday thing. At least to me. Maybe it has a darker meaning to people who’ve been to old fashioned freak shows, but I’ve never seen one of those.

It also brings to mind all the interesting questions the Hensels raise about the nature of individual identity. When they answer email – using both hands to type – they have to operate as one and sometimes use the pronoun ‘I’ for convenience – as long as the topic is something they agree on. Any children they have will have three parents, raising questions about the divisibility of motherhood.

jack

they go to bethel college

firstthingthatcametomind

I saw them shopping in Primark in Reading, Berkshire UK Jan 2010.

jena

I think these girls are sooooo beautiful and amazing! I wish they had an email address so I could tell them how awesome they are and how they and their parents in the show teach others to see them just as normal teenagers because that’s what they are!!!

Kendrix

@jena: Maybe they DO have an email adress, but they’re not telling anyone but their friends so they don’t get mountains of stupid emails.

I think it’s quite cool how these two girls can tell other to stay out of their private lives (they won’t tell anyone who they’re dating, like a lot of other teenaged girls) and managed to grow into self assured, beautiful young women with strong personalities despite all the perverted stuff some ppl are writing about them and all those heartless icecubes saying that their mother should have aborted them.
It’s amazing how thay can type with 10 fingers witch each of them having only one hand – I have two hands only for myself and I still have to use the two-finger Method XD
But I guess you’d get a feeling for how the other moves if you were constantly together – It’s kind of what happens with old married couples to a lesser extent.

I wonder how they relationships with their two younger siblings are and what they do when they get into a fight. Running into their own rooms and slamming the door is obviously not an option here… They should probably fight less than my own siblings and I, as they’re the same age, should have gotten accostumed to each other in the past years and share the genetic factors of their personalitiies. But still, I’ve heard that they have quite some different tastes… Did they do all the fighting when they were little and got over it at some point, or do they look in oposite directions?

However it may be, I hope that they will enjoy a long life and find boxfriends who take them seriously.

Anonymous

when people in 2 separate female bodies, fall in love or kiss each other, they are given a special name, lasbians or homosexual. What about these 2 girls, sharing the very same body? they are adults by now. To have sex, they will have to share a man and the man who would marry these girls, have to marry both of them. There will require amendment in the marriage law for marrying there 2 girls.

Tim

They are fantastic.. Very well adjusted for the fix they are in. I wonder if they’ll have to agree on a boyfriend, or try to cope with two bickering, jealous guys.. Very interesting.
Bless their hearts!

me

I think that they are amazing people who inspire me greatly and i am only 12 and when i grow up i want to be like them because they are so positive about life and to me they are my heros and i really want to meet them some day!!!!!! Thanx! ooo and to those of you taking pictures STOP!!!! they are normall people just like u and i so ya…

colleen

Wondering if you two are student teaching?

Sylvia Hensel

I have always been interested in your family because of the fact your father looks so much like my father-in-law. His name was Mike Hensel. His father moved to FL. and was never seen again.

Marbran

I re-posted a link to this article on an article about China’s current twins, 5/2011.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_china_conjoined_twins

So many people call them freaks and suggest they be euthanized. I think if they live, they’ll have a very unique perspective on life. They have a right to their lives just as any of us do. The Hensel girls have shown that.

May you live in wondrous times.

Laura Williams

Saw them at a Twins game. They seem to be doing well. Hope they live a long and happy life.

Laura Williams

We saw them at a Twins game. Good for them to be out and about. More power to them for all they do.

Veda

I’ve Seen Them Before And They Seemed Pretty Happy, It’s Still A Little Sad Tho.

LYDIA1

I READ ABOUT ABBY AND BRITTANY MANY YEARS AGO. AS A MOTHER OF TWINS , I NEVER HAD A THOUGHT OF THE POSSIBILTY THAT I TOO COULD HAVE CONJOINED TWINS.
IT WOULD NEVER BE AN OPTION NO TO LET THEM GROW AND SHOW THEIR AMAZING STRENGTH AND LOVE FOR EACH OTHER. GOD BLESS YOU BOTH.

brenda

wanted to say. glad you both are fine.

Sara

I mean I think they are great and all but about the getting married and having kids part that’s going to be a bit tricky…

Yeah, I don’t get how that’s going to work out…

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