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Abigail and Brittany Hensel
November 11, 2002 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Abigail and Brittany Hensel are in the 6th grade and continue to defy the odds. After the initial struggle with the personal pronoun (her? their?), one is left with both curiosity and sympathy. The greater issue is how to assimilate the truly miraculous.
posted by kablam (22 comments total)

 
Their. Not that hard.
posted by hippugeek at 1:24 PM on November 11, 2002


I'm sickened at the thought of these girls being referred to as 'freaks' (or even 'phreeques'). They and their family seem incredibly courageous...
posted by banjotwang at 1:28 PM on November 11, 2002


They really are amazing. I look forward to reading their memoires.
posted by me3dia at 1:35 PM on November 11, 2002


I saw these girls on television a couple of weeks ago. After hearing them talk and seeing the way they live their lives, you realize they don't need or want anyone's sympathy (someone asked "how do you ride a bike", one answered off-handedly "I don't know", they're clearly a bit fed up with people asking them questions like that - this is the only life they've ever known, to them, it's normal). They're very normal girls (and there are two of them, the correct personal pronoun is "her" unless you mean both of them), with normal lives (friends, parties, school, sports, fits of hysterical giggles, fashion) if anything they seem a bit smarter and more worldly than most. Their parents are clearly very down to earth and have done an amazing job thus far - the girls know they're different, but they don't really seem to care much, and why should they?
posted by biscotti at 1:43 PM on November 11, 2002


I was thinking the same thing, banjot. That's disgusting.

From what I have seen, they seem like really lovely, "normal" girls. Cute as buttons, too.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 1:47 PM on November 11, 2002


"Abby wants to be a dentist; Britty aspires to be a pilot."
... well that'll take some time management.
posted by Peter H at 2:12 PM on November 11, 2002


I saw the twins on a cable documentary a couple weeks back--lemme tell ya, they play a mean game of volleyball and softball. Completely inspiring.
posted by donovan at 2:16 PM on November 11, 2002


Re: "freaks" or "phreeques" - the Hensel sisters' page is just one of many interesting pages about conjoined twins and other physical deformities - the root page is http://phreeque.tripod.com/. The whole thing is actually quite respectful; please do check it out once it has stopped being MeFi'ed.
posted by yhbc at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2002


They are definitely inspiring for their ability to be so normal. I remembered reading about them several years ago in the Life Magazine article and was happy to see that they're still sharing their experiences with the world. Their worst problem right now appears to be some spinal growth abnormalities which required several surgeries.

(I tried to find the title of the recent show about them, something like 'Bound for Life' or 'Together for Life' , and I think it was the Discovery Channel, but couldn't come up with it.)
posted by HTuttle at 2:35 PM on November 11, 2002


I'll look at the site again after all the hubbub has died down. My initial take on this site was that it smacked of exploitation, what with the cool, stylized illustrations and all. I still have to ask: shouldn't young folks be considered off limits to this brand of voyeurism?
posted by banjotwang at 2:46 PM on November 11, 2002


I saw the show on TDC/TLC/Whatever as well and, really, I can't be the only one who upon first glimpse went "HOLY CRAP! TWO HEADS!"

I mean, yeah, I was touched and inspired and all...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:03 PM on November 11, 2002


I was wondering when we would see this post, not entirely about these inspirational girls. I have seen this story and many others recently through various mediums, of late.

It seems more common today, maybe due to a larger population, more media coverage. Or the changing mood of how folks are percieved by others. Also my location to Dallas has contributed with several conjoined twins being brought here for medical advice.

it was the Discovery Channel
I enjoyed watching them play basketball, especially all the on court spirit of enthusiasm that they displayed. I'm sure you saw it too, HTuttle.

Their attitudes towards life are the most amazing of all for me.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2002


Ogre, I guess that would be a common first thought. They certainly caught my attention in the Life article. But while many conjoined twins are shown struggling through life, battling to be slightly normal even just to get around, you see these two running, jumping, biking and otherwise carrying on just as any adolescents.
posted by HTuttle at 3:23 PM on November 11, 2002


I still have to ask: shouldn't young folks be considered off limits to this brand of voyeurism?

Uh, people with these conditions aren't exactly known for their longevity.
posted by jjg at 3:37 PM on November 11, 2002


jjg, these two girls have been mentioned in the news, cable channels, and elsewhere since the end of summer. I'm sure the parents are doing a good enough job, since they have made it this far. Also you call it voyeurism, maybe they look at as advertisement. You say advertisement, yes these girls will need special things in life that if not donated will cost them money.

PS, have you seen the two adult women attached at the head. One is normal size the other is about two feet. They were on Larry King a month back. They seem to be doing fine health wise as far as adulthood.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2002


-one is left with both curiosity and sympathy
-PS, have you seen the two adult women attached at the head
-I can't be the only one who upon first glimpse went "HOLY CRAP! TWO HEADS!"
-They are definitely inspiring for their ability to be so normal.
-being referred to as 'freaks' (or even 'phreeques').

you people are something else. they call them that because thats what they are. freaks of nature. 100 years ago they would be on coney island, now they're on larry king. and you're all at the freak show - you just dont know it.

The greater issue is how to assimilate the truly miraculous.

OMG! nice one! i love you! you should be a "touched by an angel" scriptwriter.
posted by carfilhiot at 4:37 AM on November 12, 2002


carfilhoit, your point is well taken. My tiredness showed in my last post. No, I did not go, OMG! two heads when I saw them. As, I had seen so many of late that it seemed not an oddity. But they are folks and should be remembered.

PS, have you seen the two adult women attached at the head. One is normal size the other is about two feet. They were on Larry King a month back. They seem to be doing fine health wise as far as adulthood.

Lori and Reba Schappell say separation is not an option. Joined at the head for more than 40 years.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:49 AM on November 12, 2002


I suppose this is the wrong place for the one about the Siamese twins and Julio Iglesias...
posted by NedKoppel at 9:54 AM on November 12, 2002


My opinion is not one that is very popular, but....

I believe the is a difference between "life" and "living." These two are never going to have a normal life. They are never NOT going to be looked upon as "freaks." They are going to have a hard time finding a job, and will never date or marry. I'm sure they have some health problems that are difficult. Life will end up being very frustrating and difficult for them.

I guess I don't believe that parents do their kids any favors by giving birth to kids (if they know about it ahead of time) who's lives are going to be extremely difficult , sick, or abnormal. Life is hard enough without going through what these girls are going to go through, whether or not they are cute as a button or have a great attitude.

Growing up, I went to a camp for kids with Cystic Fibrosis. A vast majority of the kids couldn't play ball or run or even laugh. They were in therapy all day long, hooked up to oxygen, exhausted, coughing, with lung collapses and coughing up blood. They were never able to do kid things. Sure, they were "alive" but they sure as hell weren't "living."

If I am pregnant and find out my baby will have something awful like this, I'm having an abortion. Period. (And no, I don't plan to do it if it's something minor or even moderate...I'm talking about big things like this or CF or things like that.)

See, I said it wasn't a popular opinion....
posted by aacheson at 3:49 PM on November 12, 2002


Aacheson, I'm a big supporter of abortion rights, especially when the fetus has overwhelming congenital or mental defects. But there's a big difference between diminished quality of life, zero quality of life, and negative quality of life. I think even a severely diminished quality of life is preferable to the complete absence of it.

I'm a little frustrated, I guess, with your assertion that the only way to be truly living is to have a normal life. There are ways to have a fulfilling life even if you can't do "kid things," or traditional "adult things." (i.e., marriage--though I bet Abigail and Brittany could manage that with some work. Chang and Eng seemed to do okay with an unconventional house-switching arrangement.)

I'm thinking of an adult cousin of mine who has moderate mental retardation and severe health problems. He has never dated or married, never lived on his own, and is in frequent pain because of diabetes. But he also has friends at his group home, occasionally temps as a mechanic, and does rewarding volunteer work at the local fire department. And he's happy.

I also know a guy with muscular dystrophy. Physically, you can't get much more difficult than that--his muscle tone has been deteriorating since first grade, and he is now totally dependent. He can't even manipulate a pen anymore. But he's also brilliant and has carved out an intellectual life for himself. In high school, he played the clarinet until he couldn't hold it anymore, headed the Academic Team, was elected Homecoming King, and got a standing ovation for his salutatorian speech at graduation (and no, it wasn't out of pity or "What a brave boy!"). Despite the fact that his body will probably give out within five years, he's now attending a damn good college and working towards a physics degree. You can't tell him he's not "living"--he is, just not in quite the same way as most of the world.

The same thing goes for Abigail and Brittany. They will always have to deal with ignorant and insensitive people, but does that outweigh their hobbies, goals, friends, and loving family? They can run and play sports and play the piano. What, exactly, is missing from their lives?
posted by hippugeek at 11:46 PM on November 12, 2002


They are never NOT going to be looked upon as "freaks."

well, they are freaks. that shouldn't be seen as a derogative thing though. They're unusual, a random and unlikely anomaly. But I think a pretty cool one... It seems to me that their condition is qualitatively different from someone suffering from a painful and degenerative disease where they're coughing up blood etc. They seem to be in quite good health. And most important, their minds work. I would abort a fetus if I discovered it would be mentally retarded. Physical deformity does not seem to be a good enough reason, unless it is seriously painful and untreatable.

They are going to have a hard time finding a job, and will never date or marry.

I don't think you can say that for certain. If I were their parents, I would probably encourage them to define themselves a little differently and for instance consider marrying one person together (which may or may not be technically legal, but though they have two consciousnesses they are one body). Dealing with sexuality, they will have to face the fact that they are freaks, that they are different from other people - most of us would not masturbate with our sisters, e.g., but they share genitalia. They are closer than sisters and embracing that (instead of gung-ho american individualism 'we're just like everyone else') seems the best route to me.

I'm sure they have some health problems that are difficult. Life will end up being very frustrating and difficult for them.

You can only say life woud be very frustrating and difficult for you if you were in their position. Some people who seem to have ideal attributes / opportunities still find life frustrating and difficult, and some people who you would think would've given up long ago seem really happy. There's no accounting for mindsets, really.
posted by mdn at 5:45 AM on November 13, 2002


They are going to have a hard time finding a job, and will never date or marry.

sounds like my life. and i dont even have a fucking twin to blame.
posted by carfilhiot at 12:41 AM on November 14, 2002


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