Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Incredible Siamese Twins in History


What if you came from an egg that started to separate into identical twins but got stuck (or, as the alternative theory has it, were one of two embryos that became fused together) attaching you to your double for a lifetime? As we shall see in these seven cases from the late 19th and early 20th century, nature’s whim can join twins in the strangest of places – from the breastbone to the buttocks – making life difficult, to say the least. Given the state of medical knowledge at the time, surgical separation would have been out of the question in many cases, even if no organs were shared. Here are some of history’s most famous conjoined twins.

Chang and Eng Bunker

Chang and Eng Bunker top our list because they are probably the most famous among all the conjoined twins. Indeed, theirs is the reason the expression ‘Siamese twins’ was coined. They were born on May 11, 1811, in Samutsongkram, a province of what is now Thailand but was then known as Siam. So renowned did the brothers and their condition become that the term ‘Siamese’ was soon applied to conjoined twins in general.

Liou Seng-Sen and Liou Tang-Sen
The ‘Korean’ twins in 1903

Conjoined twins Liou Seng-Sen and Liou Tang-Sen were born in Nanjing, China, in 1886, or thereabouts. Their juncture was classified as xiphopagus, meaning they were joined between the navel and breastbone, as we can see in this image. Though quite solid looking, the connection between the pair was actually quite flexible, allowing them to stand side-by-side as well as facing each other. The twins’ mother died when they were only two years old, leaving their father as their guardian. However, from age six onward, they were readied for a life in show business, traveling from fair to fair in China, and later to Korea, Japan, India, Australia and Europe.

Rosa and Josefa Blazek
Earliest known photo of the Blazek twins as babies

Rosa and Josefa Blazek were born on January 20, 1878 in what today is the Czech Republic. Despite being fused from the ninth vertebrae down, they were delivered normally to parents – who must have been shocked, to say the least. But Mr. and Mrs. Blazek were also superstitious, and following a local medicine woman’s instruction, apparently did not allow the infants to eat or drink water for eight days. When the twins survived – quite miraculously, given this barbaric treatment – the parents and those around them appear to have understood it as God’s will that put their progeny on Earth.

Simplicio and Lucio Godina
The Godina twins in 1930.

The difficulty of the decision surrounding whether or not to operate on conjoined twins is shown in the case of the Samar brothers – so named after the island of their birth – Simplicio and Lucio Godina. Born in 1908, these boys from the Philippines later made the trip to the United States, where they became sideshow attractions in such hubs of ‘entertainment’ as Coney Island. In 1928, after various legal difficulties – including narrowly avoiding jail when a man was injured in an alleged drunk driving incident – they got married to identical (but not conjoined) twin sisters, Natividad and Victorina Matos, in Manila.

As for their condition, according to Louis R. Sullivan, from the American Museum of Natural History, who examined them briefly on July 31, 1918, the bodies of the Godina brothers were “entirely distinct except for a juncture of the right buttock of one of the twins with the left buttock of the other”. In medical terms, theirs was a pygopagus juncture – where the bodies are joined at the pelvis – very rarely seen in male conjoined twins, as most die at or before birth.

Giacomo and Giovanni Tocci
The Tocci twins, circa 1891.

As we can see in these images, the Tocci brothers were dicephalic conjoined twins; that is, they had one body with two heads, and were often dubbed ‘the two-headed boy’. Like Millie and Christine McKoy (see entry 3), they were often referred to as one person rather than two distinct personalities – as they were! The twins were connected from the sixth rib down, such that each had a pair of arms but shared two legs with the other. They also had separate hearts, lungs and stomachs but common genitalia. Like the parents of many other conjoined twins, mamma and papa Tocci realized the potential commercial advantages of their boys, preparing them for a life in show business and putting them on show when they were as young as one month.

Millie and Christine McKoy
Millie and Christine in Philadelphia, 1871.

Millie and Christine McKoy were born, joined at the base of the spine, on July 11, 1851, the eighth and ninth child of Monimia and Jacob McKay, slaves owned by a blacksmith in the small town of Welches Creek, North Carolina. At only ten months old, they were sold along with their mother to a showman, who in turn sold them on to two more men in the same trade, looking to make a quick buck. It seems to have been around this time that their last name was changed to McKoy.

Daisy and Violet Hilton
The Hilton twins

Daisy and Violet Hilton were born on February 5, 1908, in Brighton, England. Their young, single mother must have been quite overwhelmed at giving birth not only to twins but a pygopagus set – meaning those siblings joined at the pelvis. Evidently not realizing the financial potential of what were allegedly the first conjoined twins born in Britain to survive beyond a couple of weeks, the twins’ mother ‘gave’ them up for adoption to her landlady and midwife, Mary Hilton, when they were less than a month old.

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