Living a conjoined life

By Lucy Wallis BBC News

Abby and Brittany Hensel are conjoined twins determined to live the normal, active life of outgoing 20-somethings anywhere. They have been to university, they travel, they have jobs. But how easy is it for two people to inhabit one body?

Like most 23-year-olds Abby and Brittany Hensel love spending time with their friends, going on holiday, driving, playing sport such as volleyball and living life to the full.

The identical, conjoined twins from Minnesota, in the United States, have graduated from Bethel University and are setting out on their career as primary school teachers with an emphasis on maths.

Although they have two teaching licences, there is one practical difference when it comes to the finances.

“Obviously right away we understand that we are going to get one salary because we’re doing the job of one person,” says Abby.

“As maybe experience comes in we’d like to negotiate a little bit, considering we have two degrees and because we are able to give two different perspectives or teach in two different ways.”

“One can be teaching and one can be monitoring and answering questions,” says Brittany. “So in that sense we can do more than one person.”

Their friend Cari Jo Hohncke has always admired the sisters’ teamwork.

“They are two different girls, but yet they are able to work together to do the basic functions that I do every day that I take for granted,” says Hohncke.

The twins know each other so well that they often say the same things or finish each other’s sentences, and are supportive and understanding of the other in all aspects of life.

With two sets of lungs, two hearts, two stomachs, one liver, one large intestine and one reproductive system, they have learned from a young age to co-ordinate their body, with Abby controlling the right hand side and Brittany the left.

There is a difference in height and at 5ft 2in (1.57m) Abby is taller than her sister Brittany who is 4ft 10in (1.47m). As their two legs are different lengths, Brittany has to stand on tip toe, on her leg, to ensure they maintain their balance.

They have had to learn to reach compromises on everything from what food they eat to their social life and even the clothes they wear.

“We definitely have different styles,” says Abby. “Brittany’s a lot more like neutrals and pearls and stuff like that and I would rather have it be more fun and bright and colourful.”

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