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Conjoined at the Head

No Arms Needed

Unmasked: Treacher Collins Syndrome

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Joined For Life

Transgender Teens

Saving Life and Limb


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Breed All About It!


Share the Road


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Conjoined at the Head
Originally Aired on: National Geographic Television
Total Running Time: 50 minutes

Conjoined 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 different ways.

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.

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