Friday, December 5, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #97: RIP Frank and Louie

It is with a heavy heart tonight that I must deliver some sad news – Frank and Louie, the world’s oldest two-faced cat, has died at the age of 15. His owner, Martha Stevens of Worcester, MA, euthanized him after learning that he had been stricken with cancer and was probably suffering. At age 12, Frank and Louie was named the world’s oldest surviving Janus cat, as two-faced cats are called, and awarded a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Despite appearances, Frank and Louie was only one cat. He suffered from a condition known as diprosopus, or cranial duplication, characterized by the duplication of facial features. Unlike conjoined twinning, which occurs when two embryos fail to separate completely, diprosopus occurs due to a genetic mutation that results in excessive widening of the face and duplication of facial features. Like other Janus cats, Frank and Louie had two working eyes, a central, non-working, weird-looking eye, two mouths and two noses. Unlike some animals born with diprosopus, Frank and Louie had only one esophagus and trachea, a fact which contributed to his survival. 

In fact, Frank and Louie is the only two-faced cat known to have survived to adulthood; most kittens born with two faces die within a few days. Many of them are unable to suckle. Some probably suffer from brain or other internal abnormalities, since the cranial duplication can also cause duplication of some or all of the brain and other parts of the head and neck. Even those who are able to feed and suffer no internal deformities often suffer the same fate as Ditto, a two-faced pig born in Iowa. Though Ditto survived to adulthood, he contracted aspiration pneumonia after literally inhaling food whilst breathing and eating at the same time through his duplicate snouts.

When Frank and Louie was born, veterinarians told his owner that he wouldn’t live long. But she didn’t give up on the little freak of nature, tube-feeding him for the first three months of his life until he was finally able to eat and drink on his own. Frank and Louie was reportedly friendly, and his owner says she would be happy to have another cat with two faces.

Diprosopus is different from polycephaly, the condition of having more than one head. Humans can be born with two faces, but like kittens, they don’t tend to live long after birth if they are born alive at all. Most die within a few hours of birth. A girl, Lali Singh, was born with diprosopus in India in 2008, but lived for only two months, making her one of the longest-surviving babies with the condition. She possessed two complete faces, and suffered from cleft palate, which made it difficult for her to eat. She was admitted to the hospital – over the protests of her extended family and village leader, who believed she was the incarnation of the Hindu god Durga – to be treated for vomiting and dehydration. Though she initially improved under medical care, she died suddenly of a heart attack on her two-month birthday.

A second baby, or pair of babies, depending on how you look at it, Faith Daisy and Hope Alice Howie, was born in Australia in 2014. Faith and Hope demonstrated not only complete facial duplication, but also complete duplication of the brain, with two brains attached to a single brain stem. The babies even cried and slept at different times, which brings a whole new meaning to “don’t wake the baby.” That’s not a joke – the parents told The Sydney Morning Herald, “Sometimes Faith will cry and wake Hope up, who then looks sideways as if to say, ‘Thanks for that.’” Faith and Hope passed away after just 19 days.

While most children born with diprosopus don’t live long, one little boy in Missouri has defied the odds. Tres Johnson, who was born with a milder form of the condition that left him with two eyes, two noses, and one mouth, just celebrated his 10th birthday. He has suffered from epilepsy from the age of four months, and experiences about 120 seizures per day. He has to be resuscitated four to six times weekly, and has died in his mother’s arms twice. TWICE. Excuse me while I go and add “only have one face” to my Gratitude List.