Conjoined Twins Survive Separations Throughout History

conjoined twinsEach year, conjoined twins account for every 1 out of 200,000 births across the world. While the stories of their survival are often shared as medical victories throughout the media, this isn’t always the case for a significant number of cases. This week, however, one family can certainly celebrate after their conjoined twins, Owen and Emmett Ezell, were successfully separated at 6 weeks old at the Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas.

Considering the statistics of survival around conjoined-twin separation, the Ezells have every right to celebrate for years to come.

The University of Maryland reported that 40 to 60 percent of conjoined twins don’t survive, while 35 percent live for about 24 hours. Generally, the likelihood of survival for conjoined twins can be as low as 5 percent, and up to 25 percent. While the world is used to hearing only about the stories of survival in conjoined twins, the facts are startling, making this recent separation and survival that much more significant.

The Ezell babies, who were joined approximately from below the belly button up to the lower breast bone, and shared a liver, small intestines, and part of their stomachs, may not know that they can thank Dr. Ben Carson for some of his breakthrough research and success in the separation of conjoined twins back in 1987. Medical history was made when Carson was challenged with the task of separating twins who were born joined at the rear of the heads. Carson enlisted 70 surgical staff for his team, working for almost a full 24 hours, and successfully ensured that both twins will live individual lives. His story was turned into a film starring Cuba Gooding Jr., in 1999, titled “Gifted Hands.” The approach and tact he used to separate the twins after essentially stopping their blood flow for one hour to prevent them from bleeding out was the first operation of its kind and has influenced conjoined-twin separations ever since.

Other research around conjoined twins has shown that females sets of twins survive separation far more often than male sets of twins, explains The University of Maryland. And 70 percent of conjoined twin incidences are actually females.

The first known set of conjoined twins occurred back in 1100, when Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst of Biddenden in England were born joined at the hip. The sisters, born to a fairly well-off family, lived  until age 34, and donated their entire fortune to the Church of England after their death.

Sadly, not all conjoined twin births were ever given the opportunity to be separated. Millie and Christine McCoy, born conjoined at the base of their spine in the early to mid-1890s lived their life together, literally, made their living as a “side-show” attraction. The Tocci twins, Giacomo and Giovanni, were born sharing one set of two legs in the early 19th century and lived their lives that way.

Today, 40 percent of conjoined twins are classified as “thoracopagus” which means they share a heart, making it almost impossible to separate them without losing one of the twins. A second most common type of conjoined twin is the “omphalopagus” classification which means they are connected from the breastbone down the waist, such as the Ezell twins, accounts for 33 percent of conjoined-twin cases.

What will the future hold for the Ezell twins thanks to their successful separation and survival? Only time will tell, but one thing we can know for certain is that, when they are released from the hospital after their recovery, Mom and Dad will be carrying two beautiful twins home to start their family.

Written by: Ginger Vieira

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