This & That

Story published: 10-03-2012 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Twins joined at head still interesting story today

By Jack Swift

A miracle? Well, if it wasnít a miracle, it was about as close to one as you could get. Fifty-six years ago, twin girls were born to Virginia (McCloud) Bunton of Butler, Tennessee. While the birth of twins is not too unusual, in this particular case the baby girls were joined at the head ó a very rare occasion indeed.

Mary Shore, knowing about my hobby of collecting old magazines and magazines with local stories, recently gave me an October 1971 magazine that included the story of the Bunton twins. The twins were 15 years old at the time the story was published. William Cole was the author of the story in the magazine. Some folks around Johnson County will probably recall the birth of the twins as the story was published widely. I graduated from Johnson County High School in 1956 the same year the twins were born. The magazine refreshed my memory of the birth and surgical separation of the girls.

Virginiaís first two pregnancies were without problems. Her third was a difficult one. She knew something was wrong. She, her husband and children were living in California where her husband Raymond was a civilian auditor with the Navy at the time and her doctors kept telling her that sometimes things go wrong and not to worry it was just a difficult pregnancy.

The family loaded in their car and drove back to her parentís farm near Butler. Her father John McCloud and her mother Bessie welcomed them with open arms. A few months later, Raymond, who had suffered several heart attacks, was taken to the hospital. He passed away in the hospital. A few months later Virginia was taken to the hospital in Elizabethton. The twins were born there. A few days later, Virginia took the babies home thinking as the doctors had said that the girls shared the same brain. The doctor told her that there was ďabsolutely nothing that could be done.

One day as Virginia was feeding one of the kicking babies; she noticed that the other one was sleeping peacefully. It dawned on her that would be impossible if they shared one brain. The difficult and intricate surgery to separate them took place at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The twins and their mother were sent to NIH by then Congressman B. Carroll Reece who upon learning the urgency of the situation made the arrangements and paid their travel expenses.

Neurosurgeon Maitland Baldwin and the medical team agreed to operate even though it was a poor risk. The operation was in two stages, one when they were three months old and another when they were four months old. Each of the stages took about an hour apiece. The girls have plastic plates that cover the area where they were joined together. The plates arenít visible as their hair covers them. They were educated at home through the age of 15 by Mrs. Worley Nave, a Johnson County teacher. They started going to school at the age of 16.

According to the magazine story, at that time it was the only case on record of Siamese twins joined at the head and brain who were successfully separated by surgery and were then leading normal, active lives. The surgery and subsequent outcome may not have been a miraculous event but it was about as close to one as you can get.