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Blazing a trail; Conjoined twins navigated world in unique ways

Lori and Dori Schappell were the closest sisters in the world.

So close that they shared 30 percent of their brains.

Yet they were unable to see each other’s face without the help of a mirror.

That’s because their heads were fused together facing in opposite directions.

Lori and Dori were the world’s oldest craniopagus conjoined twins and the only ones of their kind in America.

Daily life

In 2006, they invited me to spend a day at their upper-floor, center city Reading high-rise apartment.

The goal was to help introduce them to an outside world that sometimes treated them poorly and even shunned them.

Their individual personalities were worlds apart. The twins were opposites in almost every way.

“I’ve always been the bossy one,” said outspoken Lori.

She enjoyed wearing dainty, frilly clothes.

But Dori was strictly country and western, plain and simple.

Lori enjoyed housekeeping.

But Dori turned to NASCAR and Dale Earnhardt to occupy her time.

Their many differences belied the fact that these unique sisters accepted and embraced common ground that few could understand.

Their situation challenged our comprehension.

The sisters were forced to meet each other halfway on a daily basis as a means of survival.

Early years

The two were born on Sept. 18, 1961, to a Pennsylvania Dutch family near Hamburg.

At the time, doctors doubted they would survive one year.

They spent their early and teen years in a mental institution simply because of their physical situation.

Conjoinment is a rare condition.

According to doctors, the developing embryo begins a process of splitting into identical twins within the first two weeks after conception.

For whatever reason, the process comes to a halt before it is complete, leaving a partially separated egg which develops into a conjoined fetus.

That’s how Lori and Dori were born.

The sisters had two distinct and complete brains, but those brains were anatomically connected. Plus they shared bone, tissue and blood.

Dori suffered from spina bifida and could not walk. To get around, she sat on a wheeled stool which was pulled and pushed by Lori.

When watching TV, only one could see the screen directly. The other had to hold a mirror and look at a reflection.

Their amazing lives challenged the norm by redefining the terms able and capable.


All along, the siblings were strongly rooted in faith, particularly the teachings and moral values of the United Church of Christ and Assembly of God.

“He made us in his own image,” said Lori.

“He imagines. And then he puts you on this Earth as he imagines. You don’t question the reason. You just don’t question it.”

As a result, Lori and Dori learned to accept and adapt. They had no desire to be separated even if it were possible.

And they developed distinctly different identities as they matured.

Dori learned to play guitar and sing.

She began to use the name Reba. Later, she admitted to identifying as male, so changed her name to George.

In 1997, she won the Los Angeles Music Award for Best New Country Artist.

Her signature song? “The Fear of Being Alone.”

Lori would hold the microphone in place as Dori sang.

As for Lori’s aspirations, they were modest.

For six years, she worked in the supply services department of a hospital.

However, she quit the job to stay home and maintain living quarters to help Dori.

“I support her in whatever she does. So I take care of the house.”

In return, appreciative Dori referred to Lori as “Mom.”

What if one of them wanted to be alone?

Medical experts say conjoined twins develop an extra sense that allows them to separate themselves, a form of mental isolation.

Lori said Dori was good at doing it, at shutting herself off.

“She’s able to just stop talking to me.”

The twins never complained. They relished their independence and privacy, living with pet turtle Valentine and a Chihuahua, Mimi.

“Dori loves all animals great and small. They’re God’s creatures, too,” said Lori.

Life and love

Lori confided in me that she had a boyfriend. She was engaged.

We spoke about the obvious challenge to intimacy, given the circumstances.

I wanted to interview her fiance. But she asked me to allow him privacy. However, she said, I might be allowed to attend and cover the wedding ceremony.

Sadly, it never happened. He died in a motorcycle crash.

Lori and Dori led lives of mutual respect, where every single move was based on compassion and compromise.

Each morning, they arose and blazed a trail in greater understanding of the dynamics of the human condition.

Yet, to them, it was something routine.

“We don’t really think about it. I don’t wake up and think about being a conjoined twin. It’s only one part of me,” said Lori.

“I don’t consider us anything but normal. I mean, what is normal? There is no real normal.”

Lori and Dori showed the world how to make it through.

They proved that normal is simply a matter of being yourself. Normal is the way you were made, even if others think you different.

The truth is, all of us are different.

Lori and Dori said they noticed that no two people are alike. They said we’re unique in uniquely special ways.

And yet, in one grand, creative way, we are really all the same.

They believed it important for people to understand that simple message - perhaps now more than ever.

Lori and Dori were called home on April 7 at age 62.

In a 2006 interview, Lori Schappell displays a country music CD and says she hopes to see her conjoined twin Dori become a popular singer. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Conjoined twin Dori Schappell holds long-stemmed roses and poses for a formal portrait on a boudoir bench.
Dori Schappell strikes a pensive pose. Due to the way the sisters were conjoined, it was impossible for them to see each other's face or be photographed together at the same time.