NEW MILFORD, CT (WFSB) – Two young Connecticut women have been defying the odds since the day they were born.
Not far from the banks of the Housatonic River in New Milford, sisters Carmen and Lupita Andrade Solis can be found out with their dog Toby, checking the birds in their backyard.
There are chickens and ducks to feed, and eggs to gather.
The two sisters do everything together, and will, for the rest of their lives.
Carmen and Lupita are conjoined twins, one of fewer than ten, living in the world today.
Growing Up Coinjoined
Their story began in Veracruz, Mexico, where Carmen and Lupita were born 19 years ago. Their mother, Norma, knew early on she was carrying twins.
But, during a routine ultrasound at five months along, the doctor grew very quiet.
“He ask me, ‘you come alone?’ And I say yes, is something wrong doctor? And he say, ‘you have twins, but you have conjoined twins,” said Norma Solis, the twins’ mother.
“She didn’t believe it at first, so she found a second and third opinion and they confirmed that we were conjoined,” Carmen said.
From the moment they came into the world, doctors knew the babies were in trouble.
“[My mother] didn’t get to see us for a few days,” Lupita said.
“They didn’t think we were actually going to make it, so they wanted us to have last rights, but they were trying to study us and see what organs we shared,” Carmen said.
Surgery to separate them was not an option and Lupita was very sick, so their mother turned to the organization “Healing the Children” for help.
The family moved to Connecticut, seeking American expertise, and again, surgery was ruled out.
“Their prognosis was if we did get separated, we’d either have to be in the ICU for the rest of our lives, or we wouldn’t make it through the surgery,” Carmen said.
It was determined the twins shared too many vital organs.
“We have to separate hearts, two separate sets of lungs, or backs, we have two separate backs, but it connects to one spinal cord,” Carmen said.
“We share reproductive system, digestive system, bloodstream,” Lupita said.
The girls had to learn to lie the way they were born. One of the biggest challenges early on was figuring out how to walk.
“I control my right leg. [Lupita] controls her left leg and basically, everything is split down the middle for feeling,” Carmen said.
With each twin, separately moving her own leg, they had to find the right “rhythm.”
“We started waling around four or five years old, but it was mostly like wobbly and had to use a walker or like something around us so we don’t have to fall and then we would be in a stroller or wheelchair, so we don’t get too tired,” Carmen said.
The twins said they had a much easier time walking on their hands. It took years of physical therapy to master the perfect timing, balance, and seamless coordination necessary to walk on their own two feet.
“We don’t think about it anymore,” Carmen said.
Carmen and Lupita were even able to dance at their Quinceanera and try something adventurous on a class trip.
“We tried square dancing in Texas for a senior trip. It was weird, we almost fell down,” Lupita said.
Every move, every decision they make requires agreement.
Take clothing for example.
“[Lupita] chooses everything,” Carmen said.
“If I let her choose, we’d have holes in our shirts and stuff, so no,” Lupita said.
They are still two different people with distinct personalities.
“She has a lot of compassion for people. Also, she doesn’t talk much, so sometimes that’s a good thing,” Carmen said.
“She’s pretty smart. She helps me a lot in school and stuff. She helped me to learn how to read,” Lupita said.
When asked how the girls handle disagreements, Carmen responded jokingly saying, “we kind of walk away from each other, we just can’t take it!” She then said, “we haven’t really fought since we were five. We’ve had to learn to get along pretty quickly or else we’d get nothing done.”
A life lived in perfect harmony also requires an exceptional ability to adapt. They learned to play the piano, a remarkable achievement, after an unrealistic assignment in elementary school.
“You know how in the second or third grade they make students learn how to play the recorder. We hit each other in the face with the recorder, so my mom was like, well you can’t leave them out. So, they’re like why don’t you play Ode to Joy on the keyboard,” Carmen said.
“We’re not special needs, we’re not disabled, we’re not one person with two heads. We are two different individuals that just happen to share a body,” Carmen continued.
A Day in the Life
Even though the girls cant be separated, it hasn't stopped them from living full lives.
Lupita and Carmen are enrolled at Northwestern Connecticut Community College in Winsted.
"We are trying to get into the certified Vet Tech program, but we're also trying to go to UConn, hopefully next year or in the spring of 2021 to double major in Agricultural Business and Animal Science.
Getting a good education has always been their priority. Several years ago when they were still in high school, Carmen and Lupita spoke out in favor or the "Afford to Dream Act." It's a law that opens scholarship money to immigrants who came to Connecticut as children.
Carmen and Lupita are legal immigrants, but they lend their support to "undocumented" immigrants.
Their fearlessness has not gone unnoticed. On the day Channel 3 was interviewing the twins, a film crew from London was also there, shooting a documentary that will air next year in the U.K.
The twins are not shy about putting themselves our there on social media. They have a Youtube Channel where they answer viewer questions.
But, venturing out into the public, just doing normal things that 19-years-old do, means deal with reactions from other people.
"There's people that would stare, but that's just because they're in shock. There's people that straight up just take pictures of us without our consent," Carment said.
The twins admit there were times growing up when they struggled with their appearance.
"If we do feel down in the dumps about our image, we usually talk to my mom and she helps us out with that," Carmen said.
Humor is a big part of their lives, and often the way they handle rude questions.
When asked if they are twins Carmen says they respond by saying, "we usually respond with no, we're just really close cousins that decided to get closer."
"Or we were in a science experiment and it went really wrong," Lupita responded.
Soon, they will have a great independence.
"In the beginning of November, mid-November, we're probably going to take our driver's test," Carmen said.
All they need is a cushion to sit a little higher in the car. Carmen does all the driving since Lupita just can't get a good view of the road.
"I can't see over the dashboard. She can screw up and I can't tell," Lupita said.