The names Abby and Brittany Hensel may not ring a bell at first, but you’ll recognize them immediately when you see their picture. Abby and Brittany are some of the most famous conjoined twins in the world and were the stars of their own hit TLC reality series, Abby and Brittany.
Although the world fell in love with the twins, their show only lasted for a single season. Since then, the women have broken even more barriers and continue to live incredible lives.
Abby and Brittany both have their own vital organs, but they share a single body with one pair of legs and arms. This means they have to make plenty of mutual decisions, and deciding what they wanted to do with their lives was one of these difficult choices.
Originally, the girls wanted to attend two different colleges because they each had their hearts set on different careers. As they began to plan for a life on two campuses, they realized the schedule would be too hectic. They had to decide on one college they could both attend.
Where Will They Work?
After much deliberation, Abby and Brittany decided that they would both attend Bethel University in Minnesota, the state where they were raised. After four years of hard work, the twins graduated in 2012 with two Bachelor of Arts degrees. Their degrees opened up a variety of opportunities, but they had to decide on a single career.
Although they are two individuals, they share a single body. Two careers would make for one incredibly long workday, and it wasn’t exactly easy to find a job where they could work in different departments.
Back to Television
Being alive and healthy as unseparated adult conjoined twins is a feat by itself. Moving away from the support of family and friends, attending four years of college, and graduating with great grades is tough for the average young adult too, and being conjoined twins only made things that much more interesting for Abby and Brittany.
After college, the Hensels returned to the spotlight for a TLC special called 22 Years Young. The series followed their college-graduation preparation and their post-graduation jaunt around Europe. The twins had the trip of a lifetime.
Return to London
Taking a trip around the world requires a lot of preparation for anyone, but it required double the preparation for the sisters. With two of their friends from college, the twins visited England and Italy. Part of this trip was documented on their second TLC series.
They had already been to England several times because they studied abroad there during college, and they even did a student teaching stint in London. They took the trip in celebration of their graduation, and it was meant to be a “last hurrah” of sorts before finding a job.
Preparing for Medical Questions
At home, the Hensels have doctors who are well-acquainted with their entire medical history. An emergency visit to a doctor abroad would likely have been difficult because a doctor would first have to understand how the twins’ organs connect and which organs they share before they could be treated.
Before their big European trip, they arranged for their primary care doctor to give them medication just in case. They got medicine for common illnesses like bronchitis and cellulitis so that they would be able to self-medicate, under the guidance of their doctor, if any medical problems arose.
Dealing With the Public
With their kind personalities and can-do attitudes, the twins don’t have a lot of trouble making friends and finding acceptance back at home. Public perception was a concern when they were preparing for their European trip. The pair were well aware that most people don’t see conjoined twins walking around every day.
The Hensels and their friends were concerned that gawkers could hinder their trip. While some people did stop and stare, the twins have learned to cope. They wish people didn’t stare or take pictures, but they try not to let it upset them.
Capturing the Moment
Despite their physical differences, Abby and Brittany are just like anyone else, and that really showed when they were on their big trip. Like most tourists, they wanted to take plenty of pictures to capture their once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To take pictures, Abby always has to press the button to take the photo because of the side of their body that her hand is on, but Brittany can still capture pictures of her own. When Brittany is taking a picture, Abby simply snaps the moment when Brittany’s hand stops moving.
Although they enjoyed themselves in Europe, the decision about what to do with the rest of their lives still loomed over the twins. Months of conversations and job applications led to a great workplace for the Hensels. Ironically, after traveling around the world, their career took them right back to Minnesota.
Abby and Brittany became fourth- and fifth-grade math teachers at Sunnyside Elementary School. Students love them, teachers love them and they love their job. Still, the journey to get the job was not an easy one.
The interview process for becoming a teacher can be a lengthy one. After the school expressed interest in the twins’ resumes, they set up a meeting with the school principal and four teachers who would become their co-workers. The meeting between the Hensels and the school faculty was a major success.
Before the principal could even give his verdict, the teachers were emphatic that they wanted Abby and Brittany to join their team. Abby and Brittany are math specialists, and they have an eagerness to teach. After years of hard work, the twins finally found their first job.
How Much Do They Get Paid?
Although he was excited to hire them, one of the first calls that the Sunnyside Elementary principal made after hiring the twins was to the human resources department. What was the fair and legal way to pay them? Would they both get separate benefits?
Because Abby and Brittany teach math to two grades in a very small town, it doesn’t take a full school day to teach their classes. They’re considered part-time employees. Although there are two of them, they’re paid a single salary. It’s unclear whether they receive double benefits and retirement.
Although the school was excited to have Abby and Brittany on their team, there was a lot of preparation that went into getting the public and the students ready for them to teach. The school hired a public relations professional to write up letters to be sent to families informing them of the new teachers’ arrival.
So far, the reception of the Hensels has been largely positive from both students and parents. People who may have had reservations about the Hensels were pleasantly surprised when they met them at the school’s open house.
How Do Students React?
Meeting students for the first time wasn’t a new experience for Abby and Brittany. Like other teachers across the United States, they were required to be student teachers as part of their college coursework. The school was more concerned about how the students would react to having conjoined twins as teachers, not about how Abby and Brittany would handle teaching.
Before they started, Abby and Brittany were introduced to the class, and then the class was allowed to have two question-and-answer sessions, one in the presence of the twins and one without them. With all their curiosities met, the students began looking forward to their new teachers.
Amazing Math Teachers
Students and teachers both give the Hensels rave reviews. One student has even said that she loves having the twins as teachers because when one is busy she can ask the other a question. As math teachers, they’ve been able to really perfect their craft.
They teach math to fourth and fifth graders, the point where math starts to advance past basic subtraction, addition, division, and multiplication. The Hensels are working hard to build an educational foundation that students will use for the rest of their lives, and they’re making a real impact.
Will They Ever Separate?
When they were born, doctors presented the possibility of separating the girls to their parents. At that time, it was determined the surgery had more risks than potential positive outcomes. Many conjoined twins die as babies, so there were already plenty of health concerns.
With the exception of their liver and reproductive system, Abby and Brittany each have their own vital organs. Separating them would likely mean that one twin would either die or have a significantly worse quality of life than the other. Each twin would also be left with a single arm and a single leg.
After considering all of the risks involved, the twins’ parents decided that a separation surgery wasn’t necessary and wouldn’t benefit the girls. As adults, they still have the option of separating, but the same risks are present. It will always be an option for the women, but it’s not one they’re considering.
Abby and Brittany have had almost three decades of practice to learn how to accommodate each other and share a body. They report that they’re happy and healthy, so they don’t see the need to risk their long-term health to live separately. One day, they could become the world’s oldest conjoined twins.
Although they’ve decided not to get surgery to separate, the Hensels have had less-complicated surgeries. One of the major procedures happened in their pre-teens. Brittany is shorter than Abby, and due to the shape of her bones, it’s unlikely that she will ever grow more.
Abby received surgery to stop the growth of her spine. Doctors did this so the girls’ height difference wouldn’t become so dramatic that their comfort or ability to move in sync would be hindered. They recovered well and returned to normal life soon after the surgery.
When Abby and Brittany were born, they had to have surgery early on. They were born with a third arm growing near both of their heads. Doctors were able to remove the limb. Since then, the two have grown into happy, healthy, and amazing women.
They’ve learned how to use their respective limbs in conjunction so that they can seamlessly walk, drive, play sports and do anything else that a non-conjoined person is able to do. Their parents have always been supportive in helping them live as normally as possible.
A Great Childhood
Brittany and Abby were raised by two empowering parents. Their parents have long believed that separating the twins would cause more harm than good, so they carefully prepared them to thrive as conjoined twins. They guided the young girls through learning how to function together.
The Hensel family worked hard to give Abby and Brittany a normal life. The two have always had lots of friends, and their younger siblings look up to them. They were often involved in sports, and their parents have always encouraged them to follow their dreams and never let their unique condition hinder them.
Fortunately, the Hensels are living in a time when there is more medical information than ever before about the long-term health of conjoined twins. Many conjoined twins can develop severe respiratory health problems because the body cavity that holds the lungs tends to gradually weaken over time.
The Hensels also had surgery as preteens to strengthen their respiratory cavity. So far, they’re still able to live without major health problems, although they have had individual bouts of pneumonia in the past. Their preventative medical intervention will likely allow them to live a long and healthy life.
A Unique Type of Conjoinment
In addition to being conjoined, Abby and Brittany are especially unique because they’re the only dicephalic parapagus conjoined twins who have survived into adulthood. “Dicephalic” means that each woman has her own head. “Parapagus” means that they’re joined at the spine.
The twins’ body composition is unique to this type of conjoining. Their bodies are mostly separate above their waist. That’s why there are two hearts, two brains, and four lungs between them. The bottom of their spine, their liver, and their reproductive organs are all shared by both twins.
Brittany and Abby may be conjoined, but they are two different women. In subtle ways, they maintain their individuality. Especially for special occasions, they get their clothes custom-tailored so that the neckline can fit evenly at each twin’s neck. Brittany is shorter than Abby, so it’s more comfortable that way.
Sometimes, they even wear pants with slightly different colors on each leg so that each twin is able to choose her own outfit. Although they’re the best of friends, they have unique personalities, interests and life goals.
In one of their first television specials, the twins revealed their aspiration to get married and raise their own respective families. At that time, they were still just teenagers. Over the years, the twins have become understandably more guarded when it comes to discussing their love life in public.
They have decided to keep their private lives private, and they try to keep a much lower profile than they did when they were being interviewed by Oprah and starring in TLC shows. They’re still willing to do interviews, but they no longer entertain prying questions.
Despite their refusal to talk about their romantic life, the public continues to make up rumors. There’s been speculation over the years that one of the twins is engaged. During their 2012 TLC special, the twins dispelled that rumor. Unfortunately, the media and the public have tried to pry into the twins’ love life.
So far, there are no confirmed engagements for either of the Hensels, and they have repeatedly expressed a desire for the public to stop inquiring about these private matters. Nevertheless, publications continue to print rumors.
All of their feats are amazing, but the skill that has surprised Abby and Brittany’s doctors the most is their ability to play the piano. This is a difficult task for anyone to master, but it’s usually very difficult for conjoined twins to do something that requires so much mental and physical coordination.
Because each twin controls a single arm, this requires intense coordination skills to press the right keys at the right time and maintain a steady rhythm with each other. It’s really no wonder these smart women are such great teachers!
Because the twins are recognized both medically and legally as two separate individuals, paperwork can get a little more complicated than you may expect. For example, they each had to complete their own coursework throughout school. They each had to take individual SATs and apply to college separately.
They also each need their own passports to travel, although they’re able to purchase a single plane ticket because they only take up one seat. They had to take two driving tests, and they each have their own individual driving licenses.
Brittany and Abby have their own brains and their own individual thoughts and feelings. Nevertheless, they have spent every moment of their lives together. They know each other better than anyone else, and they can never be apart.
That means that they have many of the same uncanny abilities that non-conjoined twins have. For example, they often finish each other’s sentences because they know each other so well. They can still hold two separate conversations at the same time, too. This is especially useful when answering students’ questions in the classroom.
For the Love of Volleyball
Abby and Brittany are great volleyball players. They’ve played since elementary school, and they even became volleyball coaches when they were finishing up high school. Although education took more of a front seat during their college years, the twins still found time to play intramural volleyball.
Just like the rest of the children in their family, Abby and Brittany have always led very active lives. Aside from volleyball, they also played softball during their childhood. Coordinating with two brains has proven to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage for the Hensels when it comes to sports.
Most teachers will admit that writing and sending emails takes up a large portion of their days. Although they’re two different teachers, the twins share an email account. Each twin controls one hand, and they’re able to seamlessly type in sync without discussing how they’ll respond to an email.
Because they know each other well enough to finish each other’s sentences verbally, Abby and Brittany are also able to do so when typing. Especially considering that one of the twins focused on English during college, they probably come up with some amazing prose.
According to the information available online, it seems that Brittany and Abby Hensel are still changing lives as elementary school math teachers. Although they love their jobs, they’ve publicly expressed the desire to negotiate a higher joint salary.
Because they’re two separate people, they’d like to be paid for the work of two people. Although they can’t move separately, they can think and talk separately. While one teaches, the other can look at the class and answer questions just as a teacher’s aide could. Their negotiations may have already been successful.
Looking to the Future
Photo Courtesy: [TLC/YouTube]
Time will tell if Abby and Brittany Hensel will ever do another television special. They have an Instagram account, but the twins haven’t posted a new picture in over a year. Fans around the world would love to know more about their lives as teachers.
Although we don’t know exactly what the Hensel twins are up to now, it’s likely that they’re still defying the odds. They’re a great example of the rewards that come from hard work and determination. And their students couldn’t ask for a better pair of teachers!