at the Head explores
the life and death challenges faced
by craniopagus conjoined twins or
those connected at the head. Craniopagus
conjoined twins are the rarest and
possibly the most difficult to separate.
We examine three such sets of twins
whose lives unfold in three very
At 43, Lori and Dori Schappell from
Reading, PA are the oldest living
female conjoined twins in the world.
They have lived their lives conjoined
at the side of their heads facing
opposite directions. Surgery has never
been a viable option for them -- they
share blood circulation and brain
tissue. In spite of their difficult
living arrangements, Lori and Dori
have made the best of the situation
and have no desire to be separated.
For the past eight years, Dori has
called herself “Reba”
and has pursued a career as a country
music singer. She has produced a CD
and one of her songs is currently
being used in a movie. She holds meetings,
makes appearances and works on her
craft. Her twin Lori makes it clear
that she is not part of Reba’s
act. Although she must be physically
present, Lori zones it all out and
has a life and ambitions of her own.
Lori and Dori have a positive outlook
on life and view being conjoined as
the way God intended them to be.
While Lori and Dori have accepted
their condition and found independence
even though they are conjoined, Laden
and Lahel Bijani from Iran have a
different story to tell. Despite the
daunting difficulties of being fused
at the side of the head, the 29-year-old
Iranian sisters managed to complete
law school. However, as they continued
to grow in different directions as
individuals, the sisters found the
limitations of their condition unbearable.
So unbearable in fact, they were willing
to undergo a dangerous separation
surgery that eventually ended their
lives. A team of surgeons from around
the world, using the latest computer
guided imagery, worked for over 50
hours in hopes of giving the women
their ultimate dream of separate lives.
During the operation, surgeons were
unable to control the bleeding and
the twins both died.
We learn that
separation surgery for infants is
much more common and safer than
such a surgery on adults. Teresita
and Josie Alvarez from Guatemala
were born joined at the top of their
heads facing opposite directions
in 2001. They were just one year-old
when a team of 50 people successfully
separated them in a 22-hour surgery
at Mattel's Children's Hospital
at UCLA. After the procedure, Teresita
developed bleeding in the brain
and subsequently could not drain
cerebral spinal fluid through the
veins in the base of her head. After
the twins return to Guatemala, Teresita
contracted E. Coli meningitis, causing
anatomical damage to her brain.
The girls are now 3-years-old and
reside with foster families in the
US while they receive medical care.
Despite her condition, Teresita
is showing daily improvements. Her
sister Josie’s is now the
stronger twin and she is able to
lead a more active life than her
sister. We follow the girls through
intensive physical therapy…and
many doctor visits as they work
to lead separate lives.