An ‘American dream’ fight for conjoined twins

Two Sisters, One Body; (Channel 4, 9.15pm)

Saturday, 30th May 2020, 5:00 pm

Like many other teenagers, Carmen and Lupita Andrade love playing the piano, doing handstands, hanging out with their friends, and dressing up together.

However, they are very special young ladies. Two in a million, you could say.

In 2002, the omphalopagus twins were born in Mexico.

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Conjoined twins are identical and joined in utero. An extremely rare phenomenon, the occurrence is estimated to range from one in 49,000 births to one in 189,000 births, with a somewhat higher incidence in southwest Asia and Africa.

History’s most famous pair of conjoined twins were Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), brothers born in Siam, now Thailand, who travelled widely for many years and were labelled the Siamese Twins.

However, Chang and Eng’s relatively long life is rare for conjoined twins, and most are either stillborn or die within the first few hours of being born.

Doctors initially gave Carmen and Lupita, who are joined at the chest wall down to the pelvis where their spines meet, three days to live. Thankfully, however, they have survived against the odds.

When they were babies, thanks to a discretionary visa programme, Carmen and Lupita were able to move to the US with their parents Norma and Victor, where they received expert medical care in the hope that doctors could eventually separate them.

Fast-forward 19 years, they’re still conjoined and they’re living in small-town Connecticut.

These ferociously intelligent and funny young women, who both have their own heart and lungs, two arms and one leg each, have spent their whole lives coming to terms with their situation.

Despite being conjoined, the girls are completely different – Carmen is an excellent student, she is self-confident and ambitious, while Lupita is shy, and not so keen on studying.

However, the sisters share the same sense of humour, and when people asked them if they are twins, they sometimes reply that they are “actually really close cousins”.

In the past, the sisters have also refused to be separated, stating that they can not imagine what it is like to live another kind of life.

“We’ve been so used to, like, being together,” Carmen admitted a couple of years ago.

“I don’t think there’d be, like, a point.”

Carmen and Lupita are growing up fast, but they dare not plan too far into the future.

Now about to leave high school, the sisters have more than grades, college life or their complicated medical conditions to think about – they are Mexicans living in Trump’s America.

As the status of the visa programme changes, what will that mean for the girls who have known nothing else but life in United States, and with medical facilities crucial for their development on their doorstep?

Narrated by the twins, this powerful and poignant documentary follows Carmen and Lupita at a key turning point in their life as their American dream is in danger of coming to an end.

Carmen and Lupita’s condition is extraordinary, but it may no longer be the greatest challenge the twins face.

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