The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal

Jun 29, 2022 1 comments

In May 1783, in a small village named Mundul Gaut, in Bengal, India, a strange child was born. It had two heads.

The midwife assisting the birth was so horrified by its appearance that she tried to kill the monstrosity by throwing it into the fire. Fortunately, the baby was rescued with some burns in one eye and ear. The parents, after recovering from the initial shock, began to see the newborn as a money making opportunity, and with that in mind, left their village for Calcutta where their deformed baby could be exhibited.

The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal

The two-headed baby attracted great deal of attention and earned the family a fair amount of money. Between shows, to prevent the crowd from taking a peek without paying, his parents kept the unfortunate child hidden, usually under a sheet, sometimes for hours at a time. As his fame spread across India, several nobleman, civil servants and city officials invited the child and his parents to their homes for private exhibitions, where their guests could examine the curious specimen up close. One of these observers was a Colonel Pierce who described the encounter to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks and it was Sir Banks who later forwarded the account to the surgeon Everard Home.

By “two headed” some people might assume two heads growing side by side from a single neck. In this case, however, the boy’s second head grew atop the other. It sat inverted on top of the main head, and ended in a neck-like stump. The second head had a few irregularities— the ears were malformed, the tongue was small, and the lower jaw was rather small, but otherwise both heads were of the same size, and were covered by black hair at their junction.

The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal

The second head seemed to function independently of the main head. When the child cried or smiled, the features of the upper head were not always affected and did not match the emotion of the child. When the child slept, the second head might be awake and its eyes moving as if observing the surrounding.

The second head reacted to external stimulus; a pinch in the cheek produced a grimace, and when it was given the breast, its lips attempted to suck. It also produced plenty of tears and saliva. However, the corneal reflexes were missing and the eyes reacted weakly to light.

Despite its freakish appearance, the boy did not seemed to suffer any ill effects due to its condition.

One day when the child was 4 years old, his mother left him alone to fetch water. When she returned, she found the child dead by the bite of a cobra. Many anatomists offered to buy the corpse, but the religious parents could not allow such desecration. The child was buried near the Boopnorain River, outside the city of Tumloch, but his grave was robbed by Mr. Dent, a salt agent for the East India Company. He dissected the putrefied body and gave the skull to a Captain Buchanan of the East Indian Company. The captain later brought the skull to England and gave it to his friend Everard Home. The skull of the Boy of Bengal can still be seen at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London.

The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal

Skull of the two-headed boy from Bengal at The Hunterian Museum, The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

When Mr. Dent dissected the heads, he discovered that the brains were separate and distinct. Each brain was firmly covered in its own dura mater and was supplied by large vessels which delivered nutrition to the upper head. The boy’s condition is today known as craniopagus parasiticus, an extremely rare type of parasitic twinning that occurs in about 2 to 3 in 5 million births. The embryo initially develops as twins, but it fails to completely separate and one of the twins remain underdeveloped and attached to the developed one.

Parasitic conjoined twins are very rare are often stillborn or incapable of surviving after birth. The only viable treatment is to surgically remove the parasitic twin. But these kind of surgeries are very risky. In 2004, Rebeca Martínez was born in the Dominican Republic with this rare condition. She underwent surgery at the age of eight weeks but died as a result of blood loss. In 2005, Manar Maged was also born with the same condition, and underwent a successful 13-hour surgery in Egypt, but died on several weeks later due to repeated infection. More recently, in 2021, a baby was born with two heads, at the Elias Hospital in Bucharest, Romania, but died some hours after it was born.

References:
# Jan Bondeson, Craniopagus parasiticus: Everard Home's Two-Headed Boy of Bengal and some other cases, Surgical Neurology

Comments

  1. Yrs ago on TLC or Discovery I remember seeing Manar but didn't remember she died. :'( </3

    ReplyDelete

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