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Same Body, Separate Lives

Posted 05/01/2024 by Ben Hartley

At age 62, Lori and George Schappel were recognized as the Guinness World Record holders for being the oldest living pair of conjoined twins. photo courtesy of Guinness World Records

The world’s oldest conjoined twins have passed away at age 62. 

On April 7th, the oldest pair of conjoined twins, 62 year olds Lori and George Schappel, passed away at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. At their birth in 1961, doctors determined the craniopagus (fused at the cranium) conjoined twins wouldn’t live past a year. Although they shared blood vessels in the head, their thoughts and personalities were entirely separate. Despite their challenges, both Lori and George led unique, fulfilling, and successful lives. 

Lori and George were born over six decades ago in West Reading, Pennsylvania. According to CBS, the twins, connected by their frontal lobes, shared 30% of their brains and several vital blood vessels. They also happened to share blood circulating throughout their respective bodies. Since their point of attachment was at the head, a surgery separating the two twins was never a possibility. Additionally, the first successful surgical separation of conjoined twins in modern medical history was only about five years before George and Lori’s birth, making the scary procedure even more daunting for the Schappels. Even today, separation surgery is only successful about 60% of the time. In 2002, Lori told the Associated Press that she didn’t believe an operation was necessary. She said, “You don’t mess with what God made, even if it means you enjoy both children for a shorter time.” In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, George’s perspective on the matter was more or less the same: “My theory is: why fix what is not broken?”

Originally named Dori, George came out as a trans man in 2007, making the Schappels the first set of conjoined twins to identify as different genders. At birth, George was diagnosed with spina bifida, a condition affecting less than 200,000 people a year in the United States. Spina Bifida occurs when a  baby’s spinal cord doesn’t fully develop in the womb, causing nerve damage and partial paralysis. For decades, instead of walking, George was wheeled around by Lori on a custom fitted mobility device. Despite their inseparability, the Schappels did everything in their power to live independent lives. For example, when Lori went out on dates, George would simply bring a book and tune out his sister. At twenty four years old, the twins moved into their own apartment. They even had their own bedrooms, alternating which room they’d sleep in each night.

The most impressive aspect of the twin’s lives were their careers. According to her obituary, Lori was a champion bowler. She gave this gig up in 1996 to allow George to pursue a career as a country music star. Lori picked up a job doing laundry at a local hospital in order to accommodate George’s stardom. George went on to perform shows in the US, Germany, and Japan. In 1997, he won an L.A. Music Award for Best New Country Artist. When George was performing, Lori admitted that she would pay the cover charge just like any other fan. This is a testament to the twins’ ability to treat one another like unique individuals. 

The memory of George and Lori Schappel lives on in their father, six siblings, and several nieces and nephews. The story of the Schappels is a tale of great resilience, demonstrating the importance of expressing one’s individual identity in all aspects of life.