Chang and Eng were
the original “Siamese Twins”. Joined at the sternum (front of the chest
cage) in 1811, they had been round the world during their lives, members
of the popular ‘freak shows’.
Siamese Twins (Conjoined twins) Chang and Eng were not the first to be
born with this unfortunate condition. The incidence is about 1 in 10.25
per million births. The major deciding factor in their prognosis is
where the joining is, and how many common organs are shared. The most
common varieties encountered are joined at chest and abdomen (28
percent), joined at chest (18.5 percent), joined at abdomen (10
percent), parasitic twins (10 percent) and joined at the head (6
percent). Of these, about 40 percent were stillborn, and 60 percent live
born, although only about 25 percent of those that survived to birth
lived long enough to be candidates for surgery.
This is not a new
condition. Elisa and Mary Chulkhurst were one of the first documented
cases of conjoined twins when they were born in England in 1100. Most
illustrations depict the two joined at the hip, though some picture the
two joined at the shoulder as well. Eliza and Mary lived until 1136.
There is also the situation that children born with two heads for
example, were considered ‘monsters’ and would have been drowned at
birth, thereby skewing the statistics.
Conjoined Twins are
genetically identical, developing from the same egg, and often share
vital organs and limbs.
twins include Abby and Brittany Hensel about whom TV specials have been
aired. They share one body and have two heads.
Siamese twins are
always newsworthy, and with the advances in surgical techniques, the
conjoined twins have a greater chance of independent survival.
Despite the name,
Siamese twins can occur in any country, but the most publicized
conjoined twins did come from Siam. They were called Chang and Eng
Bunker, born in the Mekong Valley of a Chinese father and a Thai-Chinese
mother in 1811. The surname came later after they had lived in America
for some time, as in 1811 Siamese people did not use any family name.
In 1829, they were
discovered in old Siam by British merchant Robert Hunter and exhibited
as a curiosity during a world tour. Such was the fate of anyone who had
some deformity in those days, and live adult Siamese twins would have
been very rare, with most having died at birth or in infancy.
Chang and Eng were
joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage. Their livers were
fused but independently complete. Although 19th century medicine did not
have the surgical know-how, modern advances in surgical technology would
have easily allowed them to be separated today.
Upon termination of
their contract with their discoverer, they successfully went into
business for themselves, which is really quite amazing, considering
their origin in rural Siam.
In 1839, while
visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina with P.T. Barnum, the twins were
attracted to the town and settled there, becoming naturalized United
settled on a plantation, bought slaves, and adopted the name “Bunker.”
They were accepted as respected members of the community. On April 13,
1843, they married two sisters: Chang to Adelaide Yates and Eng to Sarah
Anne Yates. Chang and his wife had ten children; Eng and his wife had
twelve. In time, the wives squabbled and eventually two separate
households were set up just west of Mount Airy, North Carolina – the
twins would alternate spending three days at each home. During the
American Civil War Chang’s son Christopher and Eng’s son Stephen both
fought for the Confederacy. Many of their descendants still live in the
Mount Airy area (which is also the hometown of Andy Griffith). The twins
died on the same day in 1874, as the blood supply to their livers were
dependent upon each other, and Eng would have followed Chang, his twin,