Conjoined twins, commonly known as Siamese twins, are an extremely rare identical twin developmental defect that has captivated the world for centuries. For reasons still unknown to humanity, assumedly due to particular mixtures of various unpredictable genetic and environmental factors, the single embryo of identical twins sometimes fails to fully separate in the fetal stage.
As a result, the children are born with one or more of their body parts fused, depending on how far the embryo managed to split itself before it stopped altogether. They frequently share various vital organs, such as the heart or liver.
Since even the world’s most technologically advanced hospital is powerless against this condition, it’s encouraging that this occurrence is so rare it only happens approximately once per 200,000 births. Naturally, owing to how uniquely they interact with the world in most respects, conjoined twins tend to be the main celebrities of their communities, while fewer still have managed to charm the entire globe.
Chang and Eng Bunker
The famous Bunker brothers were born in 1911 in Siam, now known as Thailand. Their fame birthed the more common synonym for conjoined twins, ‘Siamese twins,’ although there were many previous such instances around the world They were joined at the chest by a band of flesh that was about 8ins (20cms) long and 2ins (5cms) wide. The twins’ condition is known as symmetrical conjoined twins, meaning that their bodies were perfectly mirrored, with each twin having his own head, arms and legs.
At the age of 18 Chang and Eng were discovered by a Scottish merchant named Robert Hunter, who convinced them to travel to the US and Europe to be exhibited as a curiosity. The twins agreed, and embarked on a world tour that lasted for over a decade, during which they were displayed in various circuses and sideshows, essentially as ‘freaks’.
The Bunkers eventually decided to settle down and start a family. They purchased a plantation in North Carolina and married two sisters – Adelaide and Sarah Yates, with whom they had a total of 21 children. Despite the challenges of living as conjoined twins, the brothers managed to lead a relatively normal life, running their plantation and engaging in various business ventures.
As the twins grew older, however, Chang and Eng’s health began to decline, causing Chang to suffer a stroke that paralyzed his right side, towards Eng, who cared for his brother from then on. Chang passed in his sleep at the age of 62 on 17 January 1974. Eng was woken up by his sons, and a doctor was called, but he died just two hours following his brother.
Millie and Christine McCoy
Also known as ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World,’ ‘The Caroline Twins,’ and ‘The Two-Headed Nightingale,’ the McCoy sisters were born to enslaved parents in 1851 in North Carolina USA. They were joined at the lower spine and shared a circulatory system, but each had their own heart, lungs and other vital organs. Despite their condition, they were able to walk, run, and even dance, displaying remarkable co-ordination and athleticism.
On this day in 1912, Millie McKoy, one of the conjoined twins known as Millie-Christine died. Christine, who could not…
Posted by N.C. History Day on Tuesday, October 8, 2019
After their supposed emancipation from slavery, Millie and Christine were taken on tour by their owner and subsequently sold to a showman, who exhibited them around the world. They became known for their singing talents, performing for audiences that included even world leaders, such as Queen Victoria and President Abraham Lincoln.
Despite the exploitation they faced, Millie and Christine were able to negotiate better working conditions, thanks to both being very business orientated. They eventually bought their own freedom, and went on to even purchase a farm in North Carolina, where they lived until passing away aged 61 in 1912.
Millie and Christine were also active in the abolitionist movement, and used their platform to speak out against slavery and racism. They were hailed as symbols of strength, resilience, and perseverance, and their story continues to inspire many.
Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci
Giacomo and Giovanni Battista Tocci were born in 1875 or 1877 in Locana, Turin, Italy. They had two heads, two arms each, and one leg each, sharing a pelvis but having separate vital organs. The brothers were discovered by an American showman named P.T. Barnum in 1887, and brought to the US to perform in his circus.
They became famous as a circus attraction throughout Europe, and toured for many years before retiring around 1900. Little is known about their later lives, but they lived until their late 20s, surpassing the previous record for longevity for conjoined twins.
One not-so-pleasant fact about the poor brothers is that they never learned to walk, since having to stand as an exposition all day at the order of their parents caused severe atrophy, disallowing them from actually developing and growing muscles that are crucial for leg movement and stability. However, they could stand using a chair or walking aids.
It at least seems like they didn’t have to suffer much longer, as many have reported them as passing early in the 1900’s, although some skeptics place the twins’ death as late as 1940. Interestingly, author Mark Twain saw them in a circus once, and subsequently wrote the short story entitled “Those Extraordinary Twins,” which was later renamed to “Pudd’nhead Wilson.”
Rosa and Josepha Blazek
Rosa and Josefa Blazek were conjoined twin sisters born in 1878 in Bohemia, which is now the Czech Republic. They began their career as performers when they were only one year old, with exhibitions of their unique condition at local fairs.
At the age of 13 they went to Paris to meet with doctors to explore the possibility of separation, but this was eventually dismissed as it was both too dangerous and way too advanced for technology at the time. Regardless, they moved on and continued to perform together, traveling all over Europe and later the US.
The Blazek sisters were popular performers in vaudeville shows, and their act was described as ‘a graceful and artistic performance of precision.’ They were well-received no matter the performance location, while in the US they graced Coney Island and other popular venues.
They passed away in 1922 at the age of 44, having left behind the customary substantial legacy of conjoined twin performers, adding to the overall legendary repute that these rare ‘couples’ enjoyed throughout history.
The conjoined sisters Rosa & Josepha Blažek were born in Skrejšov, Bohemia on Jan 20, 1878. The two were pygopagus–joined at the posterior. pic.twitter.com/eCw8TfQA5l
— anaesthetised (@1l1l1ll1) September 3, 2017
Daisy and Violet Hilton
Daisy and Violet Hilton were born at some point in 1908 in Brighton, England. The sisters were joined at the hip, and shared several organs including their circulatory and digestive systems. They were adopted by Mary Hilton, who began exhibiting them as ‘The Hilton Sisters’ when they were just three years old.
Daisy and Violet quickly became famous attractions in the sideshow circuit, and later on vaudeville (comedy) stages. They were trained in singing, dancing, and even playing musical instruments. They appeared in several films, including “Freaks” in 1932, which was a controversial movie that delved into the many particularities of living as a sideshow performer.
The sisters faced many challenges throughout their years, including financial exploitation by the bosses and a tumultuous love life. In the 1950s, they sued their managers and won back their earnings. They also had a failed attempt at a solo career, but audiences weren’t as interested in seeing them apart.
In 1961 Daisy and Violet retired from show business and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. They lived in a small house and worked at a grocery store. Their health eventually began to decline, and they both died of the Hong Kong flu within days of each other at the age of 60 in January 1969.
Ronnie and Donnie Galyon
Ronnie and Donnie Galyon were born on 28 October 1951, in Beavercreek, Ohio USA. The brothers were joined at the sternum to groin, and also sharing a set of organs. They became circus exhibits in early childhood touring Latin America for many years, and with such as Coleman Shows among others,. In spite of their desires, they didn’t receive formal education because no school would accept them.
Their family was supported by their income as a sideshow attraction for many years, until in 1991 retiring from the entertainment industry, purchasing a house in Dayton, Ohio and living a fairly ordinary life with the help of twin wheelchairs.
Even after abandoning the limelight, the two still occasionally made appearances on television, including in “The Jerry Springer Show” in 1997, as well as a documentary film on the Discovery Channel a year later, and another documentary by Channel Five in 2009.
They eventually earned the title of the world’s oldest living pair of conjoined twins, keeping it until their deaths at the age of 68 on 4 July 2020, due to congestive heart failure.
Abby and Brittany Hensel
Abby and Brittany Hensel were born in Minnesota in 1990, and are perhaps the most famous conjoined twins of today. They are dicephalic twins, meaning they have two heads joined to one torso, with the rest of the body being that of a regular individual. Despite their unique condition, they have defied the odds and have lived a relatively normal life thus far.
The twins faced many challenges growing up, including learning to co-ordinate their movements and deal with the public’s curiosity about their condition. However, they were determined to overcome these obstacles and live their lives just like all other children. They hence went to school, participated in sports, and even learned to drive a car.
The sisters pursued a career in teaching after their college graduation, eventually earning a certificate for teaching elementary school. Their more-than-unique appearance is sure to at least attract everyone’s attention immediately, regardless of the age of their class, which surely must’ve helped in that line of work.
In 2012 they became arguably the most famous living conjoined twins after TLC did an eight-episode reality TV series on them, each of which lasted an hour. They also appeared in “Dateline NBC” in 1998, “Joined for Life” in 2003, and “Extraordinary People” in 2007.
Carmen and Lupita Andrade
Carmen and Lupita Andrade were born in 2000 in Veracruz, Mexico. The doctors’ prognosis at the time of their birth was three days of life at most. However, they defied all odds and continued to thrive, becoming nothing short of a medical miracle in their country. When they were old enough to travel, the family moved to Connecticut USA in search of better healthcare.
Despite being physically connected from their chest to their pelvis, where their spines connected, Carmen and Lupita lead separate lives. Interestingly, Lupita identifies as asexual and aromantic, while Carmen has been in a relationship with her boyfriend, Daniel, for over a year. They attend school, enjoy hobbies, and have even started their own YouTube channel, where they share their experiences with the world.
Their story has been documented in the TLC special entitled “Inseparable: Joined at Birth,” and the Channel 4 documentary “Two Sisters, One Body.” They have also appeared on several other content creators’ platforms, where they candidly answered questions about their daily life, dating and emotions.
The twins have faced a number of medical issues due to their condition, but modern medicine proved more than capable each time an intervention was necessary, allowing them to lead fulfilling lives. In early 2023 they’re fresh into adolescence and in peak health.
Krista and Tatiana Hogan
Krista and Tatiana Hogan were born on 25 October 2006, in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. Unlike most other conjoined twins, these sisters are fused at the head and share a neural bridge that connects their brains. This makes them one of the rarest and most unique cases of conjoined twins in the world, identified as craniopagus twins, conjoined at the skull (cranium).
The twins have separate personalities, which is remarkable considering that they share a portion of their brain. Krista is more introverted and relaxed, while Tatiana is outgoing and high-strung. They are able to see and feel what the other twin is experiencing, which is due to the fact that they share a thalamus – the part of the brain that is responsible for relaying sensory information.
The Hogan sisters have received international media attention due to their almost fantasy-like mutual mind-reading capabilities. In 2011, The New York Times published a feature story on the twins, exploring the possibility of them sharing a mind. Their tale has also been featured in documentaries, including “Twin Life: Sharing Mind and Body” which aired on CBC in Canada.
Regardless of their unique condition, Krista and Tatiana are just like other children their age. They enjoy playing with their toys, riding their specially-built bicycle, and going down hills on toboggans.
Ladan and Laleh Bijani
Ladan and Laleh Bijani were born on 17 January 1974, in Firouzabad, Iran. They captured the world’s attention in 2003 upon attempting to undergo a risky separation surgery. The twins had fused heads that had shared critical blood vessels, making the medical procedure an incredibly complex and uncertain.
The sisters accepted the risks and remained determined to undergo the surgery, which they believed would allow them to live independent lives. The procedure was ultimately performed in July 2003 in Singapore, involving a team of more than 28 world-renowned medical professionals from all over the planet.
Tragically, in spite of all of the preparation and expertise that was invested into the surgery, it proved to be too difficult, with both Ladan and Laleh dying on the operating table. The loss of the twins was a shock to many, and their story brought attention to the difficult ethical questions surrounding conjoined twin separations.
Ladan and Laleh’s story continues to be studied and discussed by medical professionals and ethicists today, keeping the door open for an eventual breakthrough that would potentially enable a majority of conjoined twins to opt for a safe separation procedure.