Carmen and Lupita Andrade, just like other girls their age, go to school and bond with friends. The only difference is that they are among the very few sets of conjoined twins in the country.
The teens are attached along their chest walls down to the pelvis, where their spines meet. While they have two arms each, they have only a single leg: Carmen controlling the right, Lupita the left.
The girls’ mother, Norma Solis, told Hartford Courant that she gave birth to Carmen and Lupita in June 2000 in Mexico, where she was told by doctors that her children would only live for three days. She and her husband, Victor, explored any opportunity of separating the girls, but it was not nearly possible given their shared organs.
While the girls have separate hearts, sets of arms, sets of lungs, and stomachs, they share some ribs as well as their liver, circulatory system, digestive system, and reproductive system.
When it was medically concluded that it wasn’t safe to conduct surgery, they learned to coordinate and balance every single movement. Practically living in tandem now, they would almost always reach for the same school cafeteria lunch and seldom differ on clothing choice.
“We kind of, like, have to agree. It’s obvious,” said Carmen, who wanted to get a driver’s license to not depend on her parents to get to places.
Both Clear And Not-So-Visible Challenges
The threat of serious medical issues could mean delicate surgery or an oxygen tank for Lupita, who has a curved spine cramping her lungs. She can only use around 40 percent of her lung capacity.
The surgery to address Lupita’s scoliosis and straighten her spine, according to Dr. Mark Lee at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, could come with great risks. Leaving the scoliosis untreated, though, will be just as dangerous.
"The worst-case scenario is that you die from the surgery and that's a possibility," he said, adding that one can also lose neurologic function.
Blame it on the relative uniqueness of the twins’ case: many doctors do not operate on a lot of conjoined twins with scoliosis, and there are plenty of considerations in this case.
The incidence of conjoined twins is so rare, with only about one in 200,000 live births. Most of them are stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Conjoined twins occur when a female produces a single egg and it starts to split into identical twins yet stops before completing. The partially separated egg develops into a conjoined fetus, explained the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Hopes And Worries
The girls have non-medical worries as well, including the possibility of the parents’ work permit program being revoked by the Trump administration. The family came to the United States to seek medical attention for the girls when they were still babies.
But life goes on, and in the meantime they discuss their schoolwork, SATs, and the list of colleges they are looking into including the State University of New York. Carmen would one day like to own a big Chevy Silverado or Ford F-150 to drive around.
Will they pursue the surgery that could allow Lupita to breathe better?
Hardly, when they have mutually decided to “live out life and that’s it,” according to Lupita.