These two conjoined twins were given just three days to survive. Now at 18, they lead a full life, each maintaining her own personality and making the best of each day they have together.
When Norma was 13 weeks pregnant, she learned she was carrying twins. One month later, the doctor revealed they were conjoined and, when the girls were born in June 2000, they were expected to live for only three days.
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Lupita and Carmen Andrade were born in Veracruz, Mexico. Their parents decided to travel to the United States on a medical visa when the girls were 2 years old, with the hope that the doctors in the United States would help separate the girls. But the risks involved were the same in the United States as they were in Mexico.
Most conjoined twins die shortly after birth, but these girls braved it right up to today, and are now 18 years old. They are joined from the chest wall to the pelvis, where their spines meet. They share some ribs, a liver, their circulatory system, and their digestive and reproductive systems. They each have two arms, but only a single leg, with Carmen controlling the right leg and Lupita, the left.
The girls were only expected to live for three days, but when they continued to thrive beyond their expected lifespan, their parents considered separation but were told it was too risky because of how many organs they shared.
The twins consider themselves as one body. When the parents and doctors talk of separation surgery, Lupita and Carmen ask, “Why would you want to cut us in half?” To them, it means cutting their one body into two parts.
When Lupita and Carmen were little, they had to spend time in physical therapy, actually learning how to sit up and coordinate together in order to use their legs. It was only when they were 4 years old that they took their first steps together.
The twins have had to learn to live their lives in tandem—learning how to coordinate and balance, supporting two upper bodies on just one pair of legs, one girl each having one leg. Although the girls have learned how to physically coordinate with each other, they are two distinctly different personalities.
While Carmen excels in school and has a quick wit, Lupita is quieter and struggles with reading, taking modified tests in school. Carmen also loves wearing makeup and applies eyeliner and mascara, while Lupita is not too bothered about her looks.
“A lot of people don’t notice, like, because when they first meet us, we kind of have the same reactions,” said Carmen.
Carmen told The Hartford Courant: “If somebody asks us, like, if we’re twins, either I or mostly Lupita would just respond—no, we’re really close cousins,” Lupita finished.
The girls say that a lot of people at first don’t notice how different they are. Carmen said: “Once they get to know us, our friends literally tell us, ‘You guys are so completely different,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, yeah. We’re two different people.’”
Both girls love animals and are in an agricultural program at school. Of course, they have to choose a subject they both love. So they want to be veterinarians or in some aspect of animal husbandry.
“They don’t talk,” Lupita said. “They know what you’re feeling because they get [it] off of your vibes.”
“It’s more therapeutic than actually talking it out with a counselor or things like that,” Carmen added.
“I guess because they don’t speak or ask ‘How do you feel about that?’”
Like most teenagers, they too talk about midterms and the SATs, getting their learner’s permit, and practicing piano. Although it has not been easy playing the piano, but they manage. Carmen learns the right-hand parts and the left-hand parts are for Lupita. With practice, they have learned to coordinate with each other.
Lupita is suffering from scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine), and her curved spine is cramping her lungs.
She might either need to use an oxygen tank or go for surgery. In a normal case, it is a simple, straightforward procedure, but in this case, it can get complicated. Lupita can end up being brain-damaged or even risk death.
Dr. Mark Lee, a surgeon at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, told the girls and their mother that Lupita’s curve is “very, very severe” and that, typically, a segment of the spine would be removed to correct the malformation. But then everything about Lupita and Carmen’s situation is different.
For scoliosis surgery, Dr. Mark Lee has told them that the worst-case scenario is Lupita dying or, short of dying, losing her neurological function. He has encouraged the girls to weigh their options going forward. The girls have decided against the surgery that might make it easier for Lupita to breathe.
Yet, they continue to thrive. Doctors both in Mexico and the United States told Norma and Victor that the girls couldn’t be separated because of how many organs they shared. Dr. Lee said he expects Lupita’s scoliosis to continue to worsen and continue to affect her lungs.
“You know you are looking at essentially maybe needing oxygen going forward and sometimes it can also shorten your lifespan.” Dr. Lee told them.
Both girls do not want to be separated. If they did, they would each end up having just one leg and would have to spend years undergoing physical therapy.
“And then there’s the whole psychological situation because we’ve been so used to, like, being together.” Carmen said. “I don’t think there’d be, like, a point.”
As for having surgery that might make it easier for Lupita to breathe, “[t]here’s a lot more risk to it then it actually being beneficial so we…” Carmen began.
“… decided not to,” Lupita finished.
“We’re just going to live out life and that’s it.”
Despite that both girls may have no choice but to remain conjoined, there is no reason to believe they won’t live on to enjoy a full life for years to come.