By Shannon Lane @Shannonroselane
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Videographer / director: Alexis Duran
Producer: Shannon Lane, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Julia and Michael Toronzcak, share everything in life except a single chromosome, which meant Michael was born with Down syndrome which severely impacted him.
There are currently no statistics on the chances of one twin being born with Down syndrome, making the 22-year-olds from San Diego, California one of the rarest twins in the world.
Julia told Barcroft TV: “I never really questioned why Michael was different, I just simply understood. He didn’t talk like other kids, we didn’t get to play video games, like some other kids did growing up.
“We’d still play out in the yard all the time and go swimming together. So it was still really fun, it was a bit different but it was a lot more genuine."
Due to Michael’s condition he is unable to speak, but Julia is one of the only people who can communicate with him.
Julia explained: "Down Syndrome is when you have an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome, so for some people it can lead to heart defects or hypotonia, which means you have low muscle tone, which can lead to delayed walking, a difficult time eating and some other auto immune diseases.
“He doesn’t have very strong fine motor skills, so he doesn’t really communicate with his hands. I kind of look at his facial reactions the most and he also understands if you’re happy or sad. He’s also really good at reading your expressions and he can really sense emotions really well. We’d always find a way to make it work.
“I think twins are a little telepathic, in their own sense. Michael doesn’t speak to me in words but I feel like we communicate in our own little language.
“Even though he is non-verbal, he still expresses love better than anyone else that I know. Something I love about Down’s Syndrome is that these individuals have so much love and are so genuine. Michael doesn’t care if you have tattoos, he doesn’t care what race you are, he doesn’t care if you’re a boy or a girl, or straight or gay.
“If someone approaches him in a nice, loving way, he will reciprocate that back.”
The twin’s mother, Grazyna, was 40-years-old when she fell pregnant and didn't find out one of her children had Down syndrome till they were born.
She said: “I know that if you are old the possibility of having a child with Down’s Syndrome is rising but it was my choice [to have them]. I just loved them from first sight.
“They were so different, because Julia was very independent from the beginning and Michael was very dependent on me so, it was not boring,” she smiled.
And growing up, Julia believes Michael has taught her a lot.
She explained: “Michael likes calm, quiet environments. You can really notice that when you see around little kids when they’re screaming and crying, he has a lot of sensory overload at that point.
“I was a terrible child and I cried all the time and was really needy and I think Michael helped make me a lot more independent.”
During their secondary years, Julia and Michael attended the same school, but now Julia is finishing up her last year of Undergrad studying General Biology at UC San Diego - without her twin.
She said: “I have just been so drawn to medicine, especially due to Michael. He has had a lot of medical issues in the past, he’s had a few surgeries. “When I first started going to school, he had a really hard time adjusting to that. He would come and visit with my mom every weekend and he wouldn’t talk to me or look at me at all for the first 15 minutes we were together.
“And then I’d take him to the ocean, and he’s so mesmerised by the waves, I think it’s quite calming for him. It’s a very repetitive motion, there’s a lot of white noise. It’s very beautiful out there."
At the start of 2018, Julia began writing her blog “Beyond The Waves", a name which was inspired by Michael’s love for the beach and waves.
Julia says on her blog: "This site is created not only to share the story of my life while living with Michael, but to serve as a portal for others willing to share their own stories, in order to help educate the community of how rewarding life can be while living with a disability (or with someone who has one).”
Whilst Michael is reliant on those around him for support, his mother and twin wouldn’t change anything about him.
Their mother said: “You know it’s difficult to raise twins, to raise a child with Down’s syndrome but I am so happy that I have Michael."
Julia added: "Sometimes when I was younger, I’d wonder ‘what if Michael didn’t have Down syndrome?", I realise that it’s not important to think that way. It’s more important to focus on what we have now and make the best of what we have.”