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Incredible Story of the Hensel Twins



The story of Abigail and Brittany Hensel is one that has been marveled and touched hearts around the world. The two sisters’ lives as conjoined twins has shown perseverance and strength beyond what anyone living in a normal body can imagine, and time and time again they’ve proved doctors and doubters wrong.
From defying medical diagnoses to making it through tough adolescent years where they had to adapt to their condition and surroundings, the most miraculous thing about the Hensel twins is what they’re doing today. We can learn so much from their experience and resilience, and can only imagine what they’ll do next.

Doctor’s Warning

When Patty and Mike Hensel were informed by the doctor that their twin babies were fused together and had two heads, Patty remembered him being very direct. He would inform them that it was unlikely they’d survive the night, yet the Hensels believed. Only 1 in 40,000 born is connected to its twin in some way, and only 1% of those survive even one year. But Abby and Brittany were different…

Rarest of Their Kind

“When we first saw them, we thought they were beautiful,” Patty recalls. The twins were the result of the most rare form of conjoined twins, which is because a single fertilized egg failed to separate properly in the womb. Though doctors struggled with delivery, Patty was sedated and transferred to the nearest large city to a hospital that could properly accommodate the family. But there were still decisions to be made.

Considering Separation

When it comes straight down to it, Patty and Mike never once contemplated separating the two girls, as they were well-informed that it would severely impact their quality of life, if they were to even survive, and they’d surely have intense disabilities if they did. Patty wondered what modern technology could do, but knew if they stayed together they wouldn’t be confined to a wheelchair, where each would only have one arm and leg. This way they could enjoy activities.

Undeveloped Arm

One of the odd parts about conjoined twins is that the same issue with cell division that caused the two of them to be connected, also can cause extraneous limbs to be connected to the twins at birth. In the Hensel’s cases, they had a rudimentary arm growing between the base of their necks that was connected to their shoulder blade. They had this removed almost immediately.

Unique Biology

As you could assume, Abigail and Brittany have a very unique biological makeup. They have two hearts, two spines connected at the pelvis, two stomachs, two oesophagi, three kidneys, two gallbladders, although they only have one liver, ribcage, and circulatory system. Their nervous systems are partially shared though, and from the waist down, all of their organs are shared.

Personal Physiology

On top of their shared biology on the internal side, the twins also have unique features to them personally. Both have their heads tilted toward their side, and Abby, who is on the right, has no feeling in her left side, whereas Brittany on the left cannot feel her right side. Brittany’s leg is also two inches shorter than Abby’s, so she’s forced to walk on tip-toe, making her calf much larger. Both of their brains obviously function independently and properly, making them extremely coordinated – they have to be.


One of the odd things about the twins was the fact that they had their own spines, but still shared a nervous system. Doctor’s elected to stop Abby’s spine from growing after Brittany’s had prematurely halted on its own. At age 12, they went to Gillette Children’s Hospital to correct their scoliosis and allow them to gain more access to their chest cavity to improve breathing.

Early Discrimination

Unfortunately, due to their appearance, Abby and Brittany can be highly susceptible to stares, rude comments, and in worst cases, literal public discrimination. When confronted by other children growing up about their two heads, mother Patty taught them to say that instead it’s each of them who have their own head, in order to associate more individuality. And that’s just one way these girls navigate differently from the rest of us…

Refuge at Home

For the twins, one of the most comforting things about where they live is that it’s a small town in Carver County, Minnesota and the same one in which their mom and dad grew up in as well. The community is mostly agrarian, and only about 300 people of multiple generations live there, so they’re widely accepted and respected, and this is also where they attended a private school and church. It’s here they’re safe, but when leaving city limits, they’re vulnerable to unwanted interactions.

Remaining Individual

Despite being a conjoined pair who are obligated to be together everywhere they go, Abby and Brittany will still act as single individuals. What does that look like? Well, it means they buy individual tickets when attending events or sitting in a seat, even though they only need one. They order separate meals and get their own individual birthday cakes. But this also applies to punishment, where the Hensels have learned to be careful when addressing a misdoing by one of the girls.

Big Personalities

The Hensel twins surely aren’t shy about their individuality either, as both will clearly express when they like, or dislike something. For instance, Brittany experiments with colored hair, wears multiple hats, and likes purple, while Abby is more feminine in her preferences, and loves the color pink. Abby is more stubborn though, while Brittany loves to joke around more. And Brittany will only drink milk for breakfast, while Abby has orange juice.

Driver’s License

One of the greatest feats for not only the girls, but their families, teachers and community was when they successfully completed their driving exam at the age of 13. Astoundingly, they work together to control the vehicle with each one contributing their arm for wheel control. Abigail, being on the right, controls the pedals and the shifter, while Brittany controls the lights and blinkers.

Impressive Coordination

The impressiveness of the twins’ coordination doesn’t stop there either, as the two combine to play an array of sports and activities that many would think impossible. But thanks to an instinctive connection, the two have learned to play softball and volleyball, and enjoy other activities like bowling, cycling and swimming. They can even play the piano, with each one controlling their respective notes on each side of the keys.

Oprah & Life

Potentially the twins’ most major media moment, and the time they probably got the most exposure in the public eye, was when they were featured on Oprah’s television show in 1996. The host gave the world its first deep look into Abby and Brittany’s life and relationship, and put their impressive talents on display, showing the world they could function just like any other individual would, but together.

1 of 4

Incredibly enough, the Hensel twins are one of only four sets of dicephalic parapagus twins (with two heads on a torso) to ever survive infancy, and that’s partly what makes their story even more miraculous than it already is. Their symmetry and only slightly wider-than-normal body frame is what makes them exceptional, because they fit so many functioning organs in a small space.


As the girls aged through their school years, an insight to their cognitive abilities and individual educational levels was able to be monitored, but as one of their teachers pointed out, their thoughts and answers were always unique to them. They each had strong and weak subjects, and wouldn’t be putting down the same answer twice, showing how different their brains were despite what many may think.

Writing as One

One of the most remarkable talents the twins have is their ability to write, especially typing up lesson plans for their teaching curriculums. Sure, it’s pretty cool they can both write simultaneously with their respective hands, but when the two need to both team up to type on their computer, they’re able to use intuition and each other’s lived experiences to bring cohesive thoughts to text, enabling them to almost act as one.

Eating Process

Eating for these twins is no easy task, and that’s certainly because of the complications of their stomachs, and how food affects both of them – not just the one who consumed it. Stomach aches can often be felt on the opposite side. The two literally use a fork and knife in each respective hand, cut the food simultaneously, and take turns eating bites. For this reason, sharing meals is generally easier, although the different preferences can cause disagreements.

Battling Sickness

One of the biggest struggles for the girls, because everything involves both of them, is Brittany’s struggle with colds, and she’s even had pneumonia twice. Some part of her nervous system complications have interfered with her sinuses, and her side seems to suffer more than Abby’s. When pneumonia affected the twins, it was some of the hardest times because even when it comes to medicine, the opposite side’s stomach must process it even though the other is sick.


Other than their exposure gained from Oprah, the Hensel twins have also appeared in a number of other documentaries. As a part of the Discovery Health Channel, they appeared in a feature called Joined for Life, and its follow-up Joined at Birth. In addition, Advanced Medical produced an updated episode once they turned 16. They also had their own reality TV show on TLC called Abby & Brittany, in addition to appearing in a U.K. series called Extraordinary People.

Outfit Changes

Due to their irregular neckline, the twins sometimes need to get their clothes altered by a seamstress, especially in cases where the two choose to have special shirts with two unique sides to reflect each twins’ taste. They’ll also wear leggings and pants with two different colored sides, and two separate shoes. But on other occasions, they’ll take turns picking joint outfits.

Younger Siblings

Despite all the attention Abby and Brittany get, they do in fact also have two younger siblings in their family as well. They have both a younger brother named Dakota, who’s two years younger, and sister Morgan, who’s four years younger. However, parents Mike and Patty have done their best to keep the other children out of the spotlight in order to not overexpose them to unwanted attention.

College Ambitions

After the twins successfully graduated from high school, they decided to attend Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minnesota, which is a christian university in which they chose to pursue education as their major. While they wanted to originally do a more specific concentration, the coursework proved too much, and they graduated with their Bachelor of Arts in 2012.

Dream Careers

Abigail and Brittany had always wanted to be teachers since they were young. And now, since 2013, the two have been employed as elementary school teachers at Sunnyside Elementary in New Brighton, Minnesota. The two each have their own respective strong subjects, and take turns going through the different class subjects, all while helping each other present depending on whose giving the lesson.

Separation Talk

When they were children, pneumonia was literally the only time Abby ever brought up separation, after being annoyed when Brittany was seriously ill and had to remain bedridden. Immediately after Brittany became upset, Abby consoled her sister, reversed her decision, and even offered to help take her medication when she wasn’t feeling up for it. Truly, these two’s bond is as selfless as it is heartwarming.


The twins were like any teenage girls growing up, gossiping about boys in class and dreaming about celebrity crushes. However, they now entertain the idea of marriage, and perhaps even more. But what that will look like is yet to be determined, and obviously, the question of one or two partners, and what each of their preferences are will certainly be a factor.

Having Children

One of the most personal and important life choices the twins will have to make is whether or not they’ll want to have children, which is obviously a huge decision. However, it’s perfectly fine for them to do so, as their health and reproductive system grants them that capability when the time comes for them to decide.

Incredible Bond

Abby and Brittany have grown up in a unique situation to say the least, but because of their incredible dedication and resilience to everything thrown their way, they share a bond that couldn’t be replicated. ‘We don’t know any other way,” says Brittany. They’re able to comfort and encourage each other, allowing the other to express themselves in their own way, while not feeling like any judgment is being expressed.

Enjoying Privacy

One thing that’s both understandable and the reality of being in the situation that Abby and Brittany are in is that being out in public can get overwhelming, quickly. They enjoy their refuge at home and in their small town, so they rarely travel to bustling cities. But they also hate being the object of attention, or being stared at when shopping in stores or doing activities outside.

In It Together, Forever

Whether or not you knew the true story of Abby and Brittany Hensel, it still sounds like something out of a movie. Defying all odds, these remarkable twins survived doctor’s expectations and have been able to enjoy life to the fullest, all while giving back in an amazing career as joint teachers in their local community. These Hensel girls are truly ones to inspire us all, and who knows what else they’ll be able to accomplish in life going forward.

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