Being a nurse of seven years I have seen a lot of wonky things. Being a southern belle I’ve heard a lot of old wives tales regarding infirmity, chronic conditions, mental health, and preventative care. My goal is to make some sense of them all. Some will be debunked, some will be reinforced with scientific research.
The story: My paternal grandmother was an identical twin, the smaller of the twins named Mary and Martha. Even still when Martha was only a few months old she died of heart failure. Mary went on to live 60 years without any detectable heart issues, gave birth to six children who also had not heart issues. The family said that Martha was tickled to death by my great grandfather who tickled her until her heart stopped. My great grandparents, my grandmother (her twin), and all but two siblings are now deceased and died thinking this.
The deal: It recently was explained to me that this wasn’t a congenital defect that caused Martha’s heart to stop and most likely her father did not tickle her to death though many would agree the tickling did not help. What actually occurred was a miracle for my grandmother, the surviving twin. In identical twins, because they share the same placenta,a growth defect can occur called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. This syndrome is where a placental blood vessel abnormality causes one of the twins to get all or an unfair proportion of the blood flow and nutrients (including amniotic fluid). The end result is that the over supply to the one twin triggers congestive heart failure which causes many to be stillborn and those that do live can not survive very long. Chances are better for the smaller twin in most cases though the unfair distribution can be so extreme that neither twin survives.
The truth: In 1935 prenatal health care for black women was poor and this syndrome is so uncommon that it wasn’t discovered until 1980. I always worried about mine and my children’s possible heart defects even though my grandmother suffered none. It was one of the reasons I waited so late to have kids. This syndrome is not hereditary and without blame to either parent. In fact, we are incredibly blessed that Mary was such a fighter, even at birth. In many cases both twins die or the surviving twin has lasting congenital defects related to the hinderance of growth and blood/oxygen.
The source: http://www.tttsfoundation.org