On March 7, 1990, Patty and Mike Hensel were surprised and faced with a choice about their new conjoined twins. Born in Minnesota, it is rare that two conjoined twins survive, generally they are separated at birth, allowing one to survive and live a somewhat “normal life.” This wasn’t the choice that was made for Abby and Brittany, and it turned out to be a fantastic choice as the two have become world famous. The only scary part is conjoined twins rarely survive. So, what has happened over the last few decades for the two?
1. The Birth of the Twins
Patty and Mike Hensel first learned they were going to have twins to great excitement. What they didn’t know at first is that there would be a potential problem. The two were conjoined which would lead to a very difficult decision. They would need to decide if they wanted them separated, which would likely lead to the death of one of the two girls, if not both. At the same time, keeping them conjoined could lead to the death of both girls. They were in for a tough choice, but they made it and the story gets more impressive from there.
2 Living Conjoined
One of the interesting things about conjoined twins is just how different each pair can be. Some share organs, others have their own. For the Hensel family, Abby and Brittany have their own lungs, spines, kidneys, stomachs and gallbladders, but they share a liver, intestine, and reproductive system. They do have to operate one half of their boddy with Brittany controlling the left side and Abby controlling the right side. This lead to a lot of learning and coordination early in their lives.
3 Difficulties and Frustrations
Imagine being attached to your best friend or sibling at all times. Trying to grow up and live a life that is independent, but never having a moment to yourself. Interests changing but not having the ability to follow your own path without that person next to you. The twins are different heights by about 4 inches, which made some sports difficult. With separate immune systems, one twin may get sick and the other will feel perfectly fine. All of this was frustrating as the twins learned to live independently while never being able to separate.
4 Gaining Media Attention
As it goes with any unique story, the media wanted to report on the twins. By the age of six the two had already appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Things didn’t stop there though, as TIME Magazine, TLC, BBC and Discovery were all featuring the story of the twins and not just their survival, but their ability to thrive as a team.
5 Never Brought Down
Obviously the Brittany and Abby would never have a simple life. Due to their bodies growing independently, they had to have surgery to prevent Abby from growing taller due to Brittany stopping at twelve years old. Other surgeries to prevent future difficulties, such as breathing, were also required, but in spite of everything, it was rare to see the girls anything but happy.
6 A Partnership with TLC
In 2012, the twins joined with TLC to create a documentary about their life. They were sixteen when approached by TLC and the show, Abby and Brittany which a documented the struggles and joys of their lives, aired when they were twenty two. This gave audiences a view into how the two were able to live their lives together, in spite of all the struggles.
7 Moving Forward Together
In a life as connected as theirs, they had to make plenty of compromises to survive and keep their positive attitude. Arguments needed to find an agreement quickly and these could be things that we don’t give a second though, such as when to eat, shower, or sleep. Since their bodies were separate, one girl may be tired or hungry while the other wasn’t. This required a great deal of patience on both of their parts, but they have made it work in an astounding way.
8 Ticket to Ride
One of the things most of us take for granted is driving. As mentioned earlier, the girls have to handle half of their body, each, coordinating their movements together. Their brains are not connected so they have independent though, so something as normal as driving is simple for us, but may seem impossible for the twins. They passed their driving test without any issue.
9 A Mother’s Fear
Their mom, Patty, on the other hand wasn’t all that excited about the twins getting behind the wheel. After all, any parent dreads the day their child gets their license, and the two would have an even more difficult time learning. Of all the fears that were out there, legal questions also arose, “I don’t know what would happen if they got pulled over for speeding. Would they each get a ticket or just Abby because it’s her foot on the accelerator?” Patty asked.
10 Best Friends
The tale is out there that twins share some kind of connection that other siblings don’t. With their ability to work in coordination, it seemed that the two had an even closer connection that others would expect.
“They finish each other’s sentences. They both know what the other is thinking and what she is going to say. It makes me smile all the time,” says one of their friends.
The two graduated from Mayer Lutheran High School in 2008 and gained the honor of being the first set of American conjoined twins to ever complete the feat. Now for college, the two had different ideas for degrees. Both were accepted to Bethel University, but finding time to attend all their courses was going to cause some issues.
13 Another Compromise
The course load was all but impossible for the two as they wanted to pursue different course work and different careers, so they had to either give up both of their dreams or come together and decide on one. That is when they made the choice to major in education, which would lead to an exciting path going forward.
14 A Leg of the Journey Complete
High school was hard enough, but college, that was a whole different story. Through hard work, perseverance and a refusal to fail, the two graduated high in their class. They were never expected to make it far in life according to teachers, doctors, and everyone else that met them, but here they are, about to enter the field of education, proving them all wrong.
15 The Pre-Career Travel
After graduation, they decided to enjoy a little travelling to start them out on their new lives. Europe was the destination and London, Rome and Venice were a big part of their trip. It allowed them to visit ancient areas in Europe and created memories that would last a life time.
16 Entering the Workplace
While they originally wanted to pursue different careers, it was obvious that would be impossible. With their degree in education, it seemed only natural that they move in to teaching. They landed a job teaching fifth-graders, and their unique ability to act as two teachers at once, not only gave them an advantage in the classroom, but made them very popular with their students.
17 Celebrating Against the Odds
Celebrating their 28th birthdays, their mother said “I want the world to see Abby and Brittany as two individuals, that have the same hopes and fears as any child their age.” Through all of the media coverage, they showed that this was the life they lived, but with grace and poise in spite of all the odds stacked against them.
18 Health and Life Expectancy
With their unique physical makeup, doctors did not expect the two to survive as long as they had. They have beaten the odds, though doctors still monitor them closely, most concerned about the strain on their hearts. The one thing they have shown, though, is that the expectations and realities of the life they were lead were very different. Doctors have said that their life has been “extraordinary.”
19 A Question of Love
When it comes to sex and relationships, things are still very quiet. Both twins have discussed their interest in one day finding the right person and having a family, but the logistics of how that would work are still an issue they have yet to figure out. For now, they will continue to focus on work and making the most of life.
20 Against All Odds
Born with an expectant myriad of health problems, a difficult choice by their parents, and a lifetime of troubles ahead of them, Abby and Brittany have defied all the odds and not only survived, but flourished. Not because of their unique connection but in spite of it. They have shown that with just a little willpower, a ton of ingenuity, and empathy and understanding, nothing can stop them, or anyone else that wants to live life to the fullest.