(Laterally conjoined twins. Photo Credit: The Medical Book: From Witch Doctors to Robot Surgeons, 250 Milestones in the History of Medicine, pg 109).
Conjoined twins, also referred to as Siamese twins, are very rare and typically only occur in 1 out of every 200,000 live births. Unlike ordinary twins, conjoined twins are physically connected to one another by an area of the body. This occurs when an egg in the womb does not split fully in half, resulting in a normal set of twins, but rather, only separates partially (Pickover 108). Chang and Eng, a pair of conjoined twins joined at the abdomen with a shared liver managed to become one of the most famous duos in the United States in the nineteenth century. The brothers were born in Siam (Thailand) and traveled to America in 1829. Upon their arrival, many physicians sought Chang and Eng out in order to study their bodies. For instance, doctors discovered that if one twin experienced a sour taste, so did the other one (Getlen). On top of that, both twins could feel pain near the center of the band of skin that connected them, but as the doctors strayed more towards one twin’s body, the sensation was only felt by that one (Getlen). The twins earned most of their money from starring in sideshow performances (“Exhibitions: Cast and Livers of Chang and Eng Bunker”). Over time, they got tired of performing, and decided to settle down with a pair of sisters that they had known for years.
(Image of Chang (left) and Eng (right). Photo credit: “The fruitful sex lives of the original Siamese twins,” New York Post.)
The sisters had many interested suitors at the time, so it surprised everyone when their engagement to the Bunker brothers was publicly announced (Getlen). Men became violently angry, even going so far as to threaten their father’s business if he could not control his daughters (Getlen). Despite all of the difficulties, each sister married her respective lover in 1843. The brothers, though conjoined, decided to live separate lives, each maintaining a household. They rotated where they stayed on a weekly basis (“Exhibitions: Cast and Livers of Chang and Eng Bunker”). By the end of their lives, Chang had fathered 10 children and Eng 11 (Pickover 108). Chang passed away in 1874 and Eng followed him into death two and a half hours later. With permission from the families, their bodies were autopsied at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (“Exhibitions: Cast and Livers of Chang and Eng Bunker”). It was concluded that the pair most likely would not have survived surgical separation at the time, but advanced technology today has enabled surgeons to undergo more complex surgical procedures for conjoined twins. Chang and Eng’s body cast along with their livers are on display currently at the Mütter Museum.
Until Next Time-
- “Exhibitions: Cast and Livers of Chang and Eng Bunker.” The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. http://muttermuseum.org/exhibitions/cast-and-livers-of-chang-and-eng-bunker/.
- Getlen, Larry. “The fruitful sex lives of the original Siamese twins.” New York Post. 1 November, 2014. https://nypost.com/2014/11/01/the-sex-lives-of-siamese-twins/.
- Pickover, Robert. The Medical Book: From Witch Doctors to Robot Surgeons, 250 Milestones in the History of Medicine. Sterling Publishing: New York, 2012.