What You Don't Know About Abby And Brittany Hensel

The world became obsessed with conjoined twins Abigail "Abby" and Brittany Hensel after they appeared on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1996. Fused together at the torso, each twin controlled one side of their shared body, and they had managed to learn how to walk and perform complex daily tasks in flawless unison. Initially, doctors were uncertain what the future would hold for the twins health-wise. However, in 2012, the sisters reappeared on their very own TLC reality show, Abby & Brittany, proving they had beaten all medical odds and were flourishing as adults. 

Still, there were so many unanswered questions. Read on to learn all about what even the most die-hard fans don't know about Abby and Brittany.

No one knew they were conjoined until they were born

Parents Patty and Mike Hensel didn't know they were expecting conjoined twins. Patty's pregnancy appeared to be going swimmingly, and there was nothing alarming about any of her ultrasounds. Doctors later concluded that the twins' heads must have been perfectly aligned during each sonogram, giving the appearance of a fetus with just one head instead of two. However, their father may have caught on to a major clue during the pregnancy. In a 2001 piece, Time revealed that Mike had reportedly heard two heartbeats during one sonogram, but his observation was dismissed.

At the time of the twins' birth, Patty was scheduled to undergo a C-section because doctors thought the fetus was in the breech position — a term used to describe when a baby is positioned in the womb bottom-first rather than head-first. When the conjoined twins were pulled out, revealing two heads, their physician, Dr. Joy Westerdahl, admitted that everyone in the delivery room was so stunned that the room fell silent "for about 30 seconds."

Mike wasn't in the room at the time, so when he was finally given the news, he wasn't too happy with the way the message was delivered. "They had a pretty crude way of telling me," he told Time. "They said, 'They've got one body and two heads.'" Patty, who was still under sedation, vaguely remembers the birth experience. She said she heard the word "Siamese" being thrown around the delivery room and perplexed, asked the hospital staff, "I had cats?"

They weren't expected to survive

When the twins were born in 1990, their doctors and their parents didn't know how things would pan out. ABC reported that the Hensel girls weren't even expected to make it through their first night. Their survival and subsequent good health is still a medical mystery, but the girls are proof that the prognosis for conjoined twins isn't always so grim.

According to CNN, conjoined twins occur once in about every 200,000 live births; the survival rate ranges from 5 to 25 percent. Roughly half die within the first year. According to the Daily Mail, the Hensels "are believed to be one of only four sets of dicephalus twins in history to survive infancy." 

They were born with three arms

Abby has control over the right side of their shared body while Brittany can move the left side. This means each girl controls one arm and one leg, and they are unable to feel anything on the side of the body that they can't control, according to Gawker. They've mastered how to coordinate most activities that they take part in during their everyday lives, but we wonder how different things would have been if the girls had not undergone one particular surgical procedure in their younger years.

They were born with three arms, reported Time, but the extra limb, located between their two heads, was surgically removed during infancy.

Their parents never considered separating them

As the reality of raising conjoined twins sunk in, Brittany and Abby's parents were forced to discuss their options regarding the girls' health and physical wellbeing. Even though separation is sometimes suggested by medical professionals, their parents reportedly never entertained the idea.

Though they may be physically joined, Patty encouraged her daughters to present themselves as individuals even though they shared the same body. "When children ask the girls if they have two heads, they say they don't, but that each has their own head," she said (via BuzzFeed). "That's what we have encouraged them to do, to develop their own individuality as much as possible."

Splitting up has crossed Abby's mind

Since birth, Brittany has been more likely to catch the common cold and has been diagnosed with pneumonia twice. According to the Daily Mail, during one of her battles with the inflammatory condition, Abby reportedly grew agitated about having to remain immobilized while her sister was ill. Abby reportedly raised the topic of surgical separation, which reduced Brittany to tears.

After that, Abby reportedly reassured her sister that they'd remain together forever, and she hasn't looked back. "We never wish we were separated — because we would never be able to do all the things that we do now ... like play softball, run and do sports," she later said.

The truth about their organs

As one of the rarest forms of conjoined twins, Abby and Brittany's body is highly complex. Their connected biology is the result of a "single fertilised egg which failed to separate properly in the womb," according to the Daily Mail

The sisters reportedly have two spines joined at the pelvis, two hearts, two stomachs, three kidneys, two gallbladders, four lungs (two of which are conjoined), one liver, and one ribcage, as well as a shared circulatory system and partially shared nervous systems. The girls also share a bladder, intestines, and reproductive system. 

Making purchases gets a little confusing

The twins live rather robust lives, and they love to spend time with their friends. However, heading out into public poses many challenges. Aside from being stared at wherever they go, they've had to learn how to handle certain situations that most of us never think twice about.

Although they've been treated as two separate people by their family and friends, they only purchase one plane ticket while traveling. According to the BBC, the reason for the solo ticket is because the sisters can both fit comfortably in one airplane seat. 

On the flip side, BuzzFeed reported that the sisters purchase two separate tickets when they go to the movie theater. Confused? Yeah, so are we.

There's no set of concrete rules that conjoined twins must follow, so we'll leave it up to Brittany and Abby to make sound decisions when it comes to handling these countless scenarios.

They're licensed drivers and college grads

On an episode of their 2012 reality show, the girls revealed that they're licensed drivers, and pretty darn good at it, too! They each had to take separate driving tests, and they both passed with flying colors. 

"When we drive Abby is [in] control of the gas and the brakes and we both steer, and I'm in charge of the blinker," said Brittany (via The Sun). It sounds pretty complicated to us, but these amazing siblings have found a way to make it work.

After high school, the twins were excited to drive off to college. With cameras from their reality TV show in tow, they graduated from Bethel University in Minnesota to pursue teaching. That endeavor required some interesting logistics... 

Two people, one salary

Post-college, the twins were ready to head out into the real world and become productive members of society. While each earned her own teaching license, they reportedly did not expect to receive two separate salaries as math teachers.

"Obviously right away we understand that we are going to get one salary because we're doing the job of one person," Abby told the BBC.

In regards to getting a raise as they move up the ladder, Brittany said, "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." She added, "One can be teaching and one can be monitoring and answering questions."

It's truly a unique situation for employers and employees. Thankfully, it appears the twins got the salary they felt they deserved, as they were listed as fifth-grade teachers as recently as February 2018.