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Can Conjoined Twins Share A Mind?

One twin eats, the other tastes the food?

Conjoined twins have shared vital organs before, certainly that’s nothing new.

But can conjoined twins to share a mind?

The possibility certainly exists as New York Times reporter Susan Dominus found out after spending time with 4-year-old conjoined twins, Krista and Tatiana Hogan at their home in Vernon, British Columbia.

The twins were born to Felicia Simms, 20 at the time of delivery.  Doctors told her separating the girls would be far too risky.  The girls are relatively healthy so the family decided not to separate.

Doctors speculated from the start that the twins shared sensation; an early video shows one girl being pricked for a blood test as the other starts to cry.  A pacifier in one mouth soothes both crying babies.

While spending time with the twins’ family for her report, Susan Dominus watched the girls after they were put to bed.  She witnessed Krista gulp down a drink of juice kept next to the girls’ specially made crib. “Tatiana was, as always, sitting beside her but not looking at her, and suddenly her eyes went wide. She put her hand right below her sternum, and then she uttered one small word that suggested a world of possibility: “Whoa!”

Krista drank, Tatiana reacted.

Twins who are joined a the head are extremely rare – one in 2.5 million – and only a fraction survive. But the way Krista and Tatiana’s brains formed beneath their fused skulls makes them beyond rare. According to doctors Dominus consulted when writing the article:

…Their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.

It’s all fascinating theoretical guesswork at this point.  Although the scientific community is extremely interested, no studies have been done because the girls are so young.  Their step-grandfather Doug McKay says if it’s needed for health reasons fine.  “But I’ll be damned if you’re going to poke and prod and experiment on them.”

Right on, grandpa!

The possibility of the girls’ minds being extremely connected doesn’t surprise their family.  They’ve often witnessed one of the girls laughing at cartoons she wasn’t watching, suspecting that even though her eyes were angled away from the TV she was laughing at images flashing in front of her sisters eyes.  And the sensory exchange doesn’t end there.  As Dominus reports, it extends even to the girls’ taste buds.  “”Krista likes ketchup, and Tatiana does not, something the family discovered when Tatiana tried to scrape the condiment off her own tongue, even when she was not eating it.”

Many neuroscientists who have seen the girls brain imaging are inclined to believe that the Tatiana and Krista’s brains are most likely connected by a live wire that could allow for some connection never before seen. In fact, Juliette Hukin, their pediatric neurologist at BC Children’s Hospital, who sees them about once a year, described their brain structure as “mind-blowing.”

Mind-blowing indeed.  Check out the full article in The New York Times.  It’s fascinating.

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