Two year old Xiao Feng recently gave birth to his twin in China. When his parents noticed his distended stomach and breathing difficulties, they took him to the hospital. Doctors found that while in his mother’s womb, Xiao had absorbed the twin’s fetus that was found inside his abdominal cavity. Doctors performed surgery, removing the underdeveloped fetus. The remains measured 10 inches wide, according to doctors, and had fully formed limbs and spine. Doctors informed the parents that the child would have died had the parasitic fetus not been removed, technically causing the child to give birth to his twin.
Though this story seems too hard to believe, throughout history there have been many documentations of such births. Just last year similar case occurred in Peru where doctors had to remove a 9 inch long embryo from a 3 year old boy. In Greece, a 9 year old girl had to have a 2 inch embryo removed from her body in 2008.
Parasitic twins are conjoined identical twins that have a severely malformed twin (parasite) becoming wholly dependent on the viable twin for survival. The most common type of parasitic twin is called vestigial twin, when one of the twins has extra organs or limbs. This rare wonder only occurs when the undeveloped twin attaches to body parts of the surviving twin, then becomes absorbed into the healthy fetus. The incidence of parasitic twins is only one per one million live births.
Parasitic Twin Syndrome has been documented, officially, many times, though the actual number of cases could be much higher because of a lack of documentation abilities in third-world countries.
In 1783 a child was born in the village of Mundul Galt in Bengal. The child was born with a parasitic, somewhat functioning head atop his own. The parasitic head, though nearly similar in size, displayed deformations and was unable to speak. The mouth was reportedly much smaller, the tongue had limitations of movement, and as it was formed upside down on the child’s head, it could not eat or drink. The head, able to produce saliva and show random emotion, was never really in tune with the developed child. This child became known as “the two-headed boy of Bengal.” The child spend his short life hidden from the public under a sheet, except when his family was exploiting him at fairs. He died at the age of four, not from the parasitic twin, but from a snake bite.
During fertilization, if a single egg splits, identical twins are formed. If, during fertilization, the egg is unable to split fully, conjoined twins are formed. Conjoined twins, though rare, have occurred more often than parasitic twins. Sadly, around 50% of conjoined twins are stillborn. The survival rate for conjoined twins is around 25%, and female conjoined twins occur more often male.
The phenomena of conjoined twins and parasitic twins has caused a stir in medical science. Occurrences are such a rare wonder, that observation and study has been scarce. Stories like these, where a child has given birth to his or her twin have become more accessible in the past few decades, and with the advancements in technology, research and study will improve in the years to come making it easier to diagnose and prevent.
Written by: Amy Magness Whatley
Two Headed Boy