The Daily Rhino
Two heads: Not better than one
MANAR Maged, the little Egyptian baby who made the news last year when undergoing an operation to remove a spare head, has died from an infection aged almost two years.
Her condition was craniopagus parasiticus and her accessory head could smile and blink but was highly unlikely to be capable of independent thought.
Craniopagus parasiticus occurs when a craniopagus twin (i.e. conjoined at the skull) cannot receive enough placental blood and their body atrophies, leaving just a head. The most famous case was, of course, Indian. Bengali, no less. (Via the Fortean Times)
The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal was born in 1783, in Mundul Gait, and was recorded in history by Everard Home, brother-in-law to John Hunter. The midwife tried to kill the baby as soon as he popped out by launching him into a fire, but he survived with a few burns. His parents soon realised the revenue he could create, poor folk that they were, and displayed him for money. However to preserve the mystique, they covered him in sheets throughout the day, so that no one could grab a peek without paying. He spent most of his short life wrapped up and miserable.
His extra head sat atop his normal one, upside down. It would attempt to suckle if put to the breast and would grimace if pinched, but did not seem capable of independent movements. The pupils were weakly reactive to light but the corneal reflex was absent. He lived to the age of four, probably the longest any of the few patients born with this rare condition has survived, when he died from a cobra bite.
His parents would not allow sale of the corpse, but oddly enough they buried him - allowing the body to be stolen free of charge. Dissection revealed that there was no boney septum between the brains and that each was encased in normal dura. For many years, physicians were unsure as to how to classify the boy, until 1836 when French anatomist Isidore Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire drew parallels between the Bengali boy and craniopagus twins:
"He suggested that the Two-Headed Boy belonged to a special group of parasitic craniopagi, and quoted a similar French case, described by the Liège surgeon M Vottem in 1828. Here, the parasite had been much larger than in Home’s case, with incompletely developed arms and a rudimentary spinal column. The monstrous fœtus was seen to gasp for breath and move slightly for about half an hour; after its death, the mother was told she had given birth to a stillborn normal child, in order not to disturb her." [Link].
To support the theory that craniopagi parasiticae are craniopagus twins with an atrophied body, some of the neck stumps in subsequent two-headed babies have been found to contain rudimentary sternums, hearts, clavicles, ribs, pharynx and lungs.
The boy's skull remains on display in the Royal College of Surgeons in London:
Permanent link action